Monday, February 22, 2010

Using Our Voices to Win Paid Sick Days

by Helen Bushnell, 9to5 Colorado member

Last month, I stood in the Rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol building – surrounded by fellow members of 9to5 National Association of Working Women and Paid Sick Days Colorado Coalition partners.

We were there to lobby our legislators about the paid sick days movement. It was an intimidating and scary moment. I had never lobbied before. But now, I know that I will lobby again.

Here is what I learned:
Surprise, surprise … Legislators aren’t always sitting in their offices waiting for their constituents to show up. They are really busy. They all have committees and issues. But it’s not that hard to get a hold of them.

You can pull legislators out of committee meetings. You write your name and the name of the person you want to contact on a slip of paper and give it to a person in a green coat, who then takes it into the meeting. It can take as much as twenty minutes for the legislator to come out. Sometimes that cannot leave their meeting. So be patient. I almost missed talking to a Representative because I didn’t wait long enough.

Legislators do want to talk to you. After all, they work for us and they want to know what their constituents are thinking. What I’m thinking about is paid sick days. I spoke with Rep. Sarah Gagliardi, and what I told her about was my experience in working as a child care provider. I told her about one of my students who got whooping cough. The whooping cough incident closed the whole center – and it impacted a lot of families.

What happened to those families? Did they stay home with their children because the child care center had to close? Did they lose their pay for that day? Did some of them lose their jobs because of the lack of paid sick days? I don’t know what happened in every single case. But I know what happens when workers don’t have paid sick days. They have to make tough choices between caring for their families and keeping their jobs; choices no worker should have to make.

Let me tell you, people will always get sick. Child care workers, especially, get sick. Without paid sick days, they go to work, they spread contagions, and other people get sick. Think about restaurant workers. Restaurant workers get sick. If they don’t have paid sick days (and 90 percent of them don’t), they go to work. They are afraid of losing their pay or losing their jobs. They spread contagions. We all lose because of the lack of paid sick days.

On lobby day, when I told Gagliardi the stories, I also handed her 9to5 postcards filled out by her constituents. There were about 25 or 30 cards. It made a difference.

Lobbying makes a difference. Especially when it’s lobbying by a “real person” like me.

Our voices matter.

If you ever have the opportunity to lobby with 9to5 or to collect postcards, I would urge you to do so. We can influence legislation, but only if we work together.

Helen Bushnell is a member and volunteer of 9to5 Colorado

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