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Essential workers calling for the return of paid COVID-19 sick leave

The protection ended in September 2021, forcing several sick workers to use vacation time or no pay at all.
Posted at 8:23 AM, Jan 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 11:25:09-05

Essential workers, unions and legislators are calling on the governor to bring back emergency paid sick leave for employees who contract COVID-19...

Not having that protection is forcing several sick workers to use vacation time or no pay at all.

“At some point, you are going to run out of days to use,” said Jose Segura, Santa Maria Elementary Education Association’s president.

Essential workers are burned out from their high demanding jobs.

“It seems like across the nation we are seeing that nurses have to use their vacation time and oftentimes that is used up depending if they already had COVID one other time,” explained Sandy Reding, the California Nurses Association’s president and registered nurse in the Bakersfield area.

Those in the medical field also dealing with the latest California guideline, which allows asymptomatic health care workers to return without isolating or testing as long as they wear an N95 face mask.

“Could be detrimental to our patients’ health and we also want to make sure for each other that we protect our coworkers and preserve the existing workforce that is there,” said Reding.

Essential workers said supplemental paid leave in 2021 gave them an opportunity to recuperate.

“The fact that was retroactive to the beginning of January was super helpful to folks who had already been burning through their own sick days,” added Segura.

The protection was in effect from Jan. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2021.

Employers who had 26 or more workers had to provide up to 80 hours of paid time leave for COVID-19 related reasons, but it expired.

“We depend on our salaries month to month to make our mortgage, to pay our bills, to feed our kids, send them to school, so when you have a reduction in pay or a loss of pay, that is a huge, negative impact on your family,” said Segura.

It also raised concerns in the business sector.

“A big issue that our members have seen is abuse of the leave,” explained Ashley Hoffman, the policy advocate at California Chamber of Commerce. “Last year, for any of the qualifying reasons, including to get a vaccine or recovering from side effects, you could take up to 80 hours off and there was no ability for the employer to ask for any documentation.”

On Twitter, the hastag #PAIDSICKDAYSNOW is gaining traction thanks to unions and legislators such as California Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg and Assemblymembers Jim Wood and Luz Rivas.

"We don’t want to interact with people who actively know they are sick or are refusing to participate in the process of testing because they do not want to give their employer a reason to exclude them from the workforce,” said Segura.

On Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said paid sick leave is being discussed.

“It is an early action, top priority both for our office and legislative leaders," said Governor Newsom.

As pressure builds up, the California Chamber of Commerce is advocating on behalf of employers.

"A lot of employers do offer generous sick leave, so we just want to make sure if they already offer quite a bit of sick leave that can be used for these purposes that they could get some credit for that,” added Hoffman.

While unions back up this emergency measure.

“We will always be there for you, but we need you there for us as well and we hope the community will contact the governor’s office,” concluded Reding.

Advocates on both sides said they plan to continue sending letters to the governor and running campaigns on social media to push for this legislation.

There is no clear timeline as to when or if this legislation passes but advocates said there is a lot of pressure on the governor to get this paid leave approved.