The Other Dirty Paid Sick Days Secret – National Consumers League

Psst…here’s a dirty little secret that might be playing out in your workplace too.

Colleagues are coming to work while sick. We’re lucky enough to have paid sick days but they’re not being used.

This is a problem. While my office has paid sick days, a large percent of American private sector workers don’t get any paid leave. Meaning they have to decide between a paycheck and their health. 

Nearly 40 million people don’t have a single paid sick day. Do you?

It’s astounding, isn’t it? Nearly four in ten private-sector workers—and 80% of low-wage workers —don’t have a single paid sick day to recover from the flu, or cold, or stomach-bug, i.e. short-term illnesses.

Our nation’s failure to establish a basic workplace standard of paid sick days has never been so apparent and it’s costing workers, families, and the public health.

While some cities and states have taken up the mantle of paid sick days and passed laws giving workers the right to have them, what’s the benefit of these new laws if there is a work culture that prevents people from actually using them?

This problem affects children too. Sick kids are going to school and infecting their classmates. In a recent Washington Post article, one parent describes receiving an email from their child’s teacher explaining that four students have come down with strep throat that week and asks that if their child has a sore throat to please keep them home.

For those of us lucky enough to have paid sick days, we need to use them. Yes, there is a culture in many of today’s offices and workplaces that look down on employees who use their sick time. This warped way of thinking needs to change! 

How is it more productive to have someone sick with a cold or flu come into work, cough and sneeze all over the place thus infecting their colleagues than that employee staying home and getting better? In a Staples 2013 survey, it was reported that 90 percent of workers go in while they’re ill and contagious.   

Not only do we need to have universal paid sick days for all workers, not just those in white-collar jobs, but we need a change in attitude and culture that has sick people – workers and students – staying home to rest and recuperate.


Happy Labor Day! – National Consumers League

So far in 2014, labor advocates have celebrated an unusual number of victories. For 115 years NCL has fought for improved workplace protections, basic safety standards, and the empowerment of American workers. We are very happy that at this year’s Trumpeter Dinner, we continue on this long tradition of recognizing our labor leaders by honoring Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO.

Here in Washington, DC, NCL has been fighting to see the passage of important measures that will improve the lives of workers in the city. These include: 

  • Passage of DC’s new minimum wage law that went into effect July 1, 2014. The new law immediately raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and the wage will continue to increase until it reaches $11.50 over the next two years.
  • Passage of DC’s new Paid Sick and Safe Days law which into effect February 22, 2014. The new law closed the loophole in DC’s original law and now includes tipped workers and workers who have been on the job for less than one year.
  • Passage of DC’s new Wage Theft law that increases penalties on repeat labor offenders (employers), allows better legal access for victims, and creates a stronger system for DC’s Department of Wage & Hour investigations.

Nationally, NCL is part of a variety of coalitions that celebrated many important victories. These include: 

  • Presidential Executive Orders: After continued pressure from labor groups and fellow advocates, President Obama signed a host of labor related Executive Orders for federal contractors. These included: raising the minimum wage to $10.10, protecting LGBT workers from discrimination, raising the bar on federal contractors to disqualify labor violators from receiving federal contracts, retaliation protections for workers who share their salary information, instructing the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to collect wage information from federal contractors including gender to further study the wage gap.
  • NCL participated in the planning and attended the White House Working Families Summit in July.
  • NCL wrote and submitted official comments on a variety of rules, including: DOL’s Family Medical Leave Act’s ‘spouse’ definition rule, OSHA’s record keeping rule, OSHA’s silica rule, OFCCP’s pregnancy discrimination complaint form, and the increase to the minimum wage for federal contract workers.
  • NCL also testified in support of strengthening the OSHA silica rule. 
  • In addition, NCL continued its work on federal economic security bills: the Health Families Act (paid sick days), the FAMILY Act (paid family & medical leave), the Paycheck Fairness Act (retaliation protection for workers sharing salary info – wage gap), and the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (accommodations for pregnant workers).

There is much to cheer about and, all in all, we think it’s been a banner year for improving workers’ lives. There is, however, much work to be done, and Labor Day is a time to be optimistic about a future with more labor victories. We will continue to fight for better workplaces including: 

  • Creating stronger protections for all workers especially LGBT and pregnant workers.
  • Advocating for more cities and states to increase their local minimum wage.
  • Advancing city and state paid sick days campaigns.
  • Watching and participating in the Peggy Young v. UPS Supreme Court case. UPS refused to grant Peggy Young workplace accommodations (light duty) while she was 3 months pregnant, even though UPS grants accommodations to injured or disabled workers.

This Labor Day, while spending the day at the pool or hanging out barbequing with friends, please take a moment to think about the struggles of working Americans and hopefully thank one too.

Summer grill season is here! Think American union-made – National Consumers League

With the unofficial start of summer right around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about firing up the grill and looking forward to our favorite summer foods. This summer, make your grocery shopping mean more than just great food and support good paying American jobs. As a consumer, you can support the actions of thousands of hard working Americans by buying American-made products and union-made products. 

Check out the list below and try to serve some union-made treats this Memorial Day weekend and all summer.


Text MADE to 235246 for more union-made-in-America product lists.
Our list comes courtesy of Union Plus, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s website Labor 411.

Nearly 100 days into 2014, women finally earn what men earned in 2013 – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. … It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Today is the day we can start to put these words from President Obama during his State of the Union address into action. In a matter of hours, the U.S. Senate will vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act — a bill that would deter wage discrimination. Today, 98 days into 2014, is Equal Pay Day. This day symbolizes the extra time needed for women to earn the same salary as their male counterparts in 2013. The Paycheck Fairness Act would deter wage discrimination by updating the nearly 50-year-old Equal Pay Act, in part by barring retaliation against workers who disclose their own wages to coworkers.

It’s ridiculous, but right now, no federal law broadly prohibits employers from penalizing and even firing employees just for talking about their salaries. The wage gap does not only affect women, it affects whole families. At a time when women increasingly are the breadwinners, 71 percent of mothers are part of the labor force, a pay gap unfairly targets children in households with single mothers or where both parents work. The pay gap, when calculated over the course of a year, means women receive on average $10,784 less than males performing similar work.

The pay disparity is increased among African American women and Hispanic women, who make $19,575 and $23,873 less respectively than a white non-Hispanic male performing the same job. Using these figures, the Department of Labor estimates that women make on average $380,000 less over the course of their careers.

That is a huge sum of money when trying to put a child through college, buying healthy groceries for the dinner table, or paying the rent. Despite the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill signed into law by President Obama in 2009, more work needs to be done to ensure women have the resources and tools they need to confront discrimination and challenge unfair practices in the courts.

Current law forces women to jump through too many hoops in order to make claims of gender discrimination. For Lilly Ledbetter, she was told on her first day of work at Goodyear never to discuss her salary with anyone. It wasn’t until she found an anonymous note in her locker years later that Lilly realized she was being paid as much as 40 percent less than her male colleagues in the same position. This is exactly why these pay-secrecy policies that punish employees and hide discrimination must go! It’s time to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act!  

Amidst a flurry of economic theories about the minimum wage, personal struggles tell the story – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

These days, issues of economic security are finally getting their due. Cities and states – and in some cases counties – have decided to strike it out on their own and take matters into their own hands. Thirteen states and a few cities and counties have increased their minimum wages in the past year. Still, the federal government lags behind.

A few weeks ago, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing on the Senate Fair Minimum Wage Act (S.460 & H.R. 1010) that would increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, increase the tipped minimum wage from a paltry $2.13 an hour to 70% of the ‘regular’ minimum wage ($7.07), and index both to the rate of inflation – thus stopping this vital wage from being used as a political football.

The hearing witness list included the usual heavyweights: the U.S. Department of Labor‘s (DOL) Secretary Tom Perez and the Director of the Congressional Budget Office Douglas Elmendorf as well as Dr. Heather Boushey, the Executive Director and Chief Economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of the NETWORK, but most importantly, Alicia McCrary – a mother of four trying to make ends meet as a fast food worker on a minimum wage salary.

Alicia McCrary’s voice brought the discussion out of the battling economic studies, partisan posturing, and election year sound bites and back to reality. McCrary simply told her truth and the truth of many families. She spoke of how she moved her four boys out of Chicago after leaving an abusive relationship and shared with the Committee the routine of deciding each month which of her four sons would be the lucky one to get a haircut because she can’t afford for them all to have haircuts in the same month.

Alicia is a good example of what life is like for millions of American families struggling on the minimum wage. Besides demands from work, these working parents face many hurdles at home from finding affordable housing and childcare to feeding their growing children and providing them with health care. With the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a single mother that works full time and has one child, lives in poverty at $15,080 (before taxes) a year. This qualifies them for food stamps because without it, they would have little left after paying rent, utilities, transportation, and health care.

The New York Times and the Economic Policy Institute have both released minimum wage calculators/budgets that demonstrate just how far a minimum wage paycheck goes. They highlight the many costs faced by families and just how unlivable the current minimum wage is. Not surprisingly, the numbers show the writing on the wall that families across the country already know. With the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program, low-wage workers are seeing their budgets get stretched even farther. In many metropolitan areas affordable housing is a myth – in a recently published report Out of Reach

from the National Low Income Housing Coalition – in no state can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent. In Washington D.C., where a District minimum wage earner makes $8.50 an hour – more than the federal minimum wage, it would take that same worker 137 hours per week to afford rent. How many hours would a minimum wage earner need to work in your state to afford rent?

If raised to $10.10 an hour, as those in both houses of Congress and worker advocates are calling for, then 30.3 million workers would get a raise. American families need a break – we need to raise the minimum wage!

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 2 – National Consumers League

Second in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (bill text) — extends protections to 20,000+ new workers and boosts enforcement to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered are actually able to get the leave they earn under the law.

The bill as a whole will go into effect once funds for implementation are included in DC’s spring 2014 budget.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends paid sick days to tipped restaurant workers, who were carved out by an amendment when the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act passed in 2008. The bill guarantees that these workers will receive their normal base wage or the full minimum wage (currently $8.25) for each hour of leave they use, whichever is higher. They will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year.

No More Year of Waiting for Leave

Current law allows employers to wait a whole year before letting their employees accrue even a single sick day. The bill would guarantee that workers in all industries can start earning sick days from their first day on the job and could start using them after 90 days and would close a loophole where workers could be fired and then rehired in order to cancel their accrued leave. Especially in high turnover industries like child-care, cleaning, security, construction, and restaurants, these changes are huge victories.

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied paid sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the DC Office of Wage-Hour or suing in court. Either way, in addition to any lost pay for the days they took off, they would be owed $500 in damages for each day they were forced to work instead of taking leave they had earned, interest for pay owed, reinstatement if they were fired or demoted for taking leave, and attorneys fees and court costs to help enable them to bring a claim.

Workers will have three years to file a claim and longer if their employer failed to post the required notice of paid sick leave rights. Businesses will be required to keep records of hours worked and leave accrued for at least that long and, if they fail to keep required records, employees’ testimony about the failure to be paid leave will be presumed true. The District government will also be able to assess enforcement costs and $1000 or higher civil penalties for violations as well as suspend business licenses until the violations are cured.

To encourage employees to come forward and speak out about violations, the bill includes strong retaliation protections not only when workers file official complaints, but also when they advocate for their rights directly to their supervisor, share information during an investigation, or share information about the right to sick leave with their co-workers.

Public Education

Finally, the bill provides for a public education campaign to ensure workers and employers know about the new law and how to comply with it.

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 1 – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights

First in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council. Congratulations to all DC workers and to the advocates who helped push the Washington, DC City Council to unanimously pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 and the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 on Tuesday, December 17th without allowing the bills to be weakened by industry-sponsored amendments. 

Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text) The bill increases the minimum wage, which is currently $8.25, to $11.50 in three steps:

  • $9.50 on July 1, 2014
  • $10.50 on July 1, 2015
  • $11.50 on July 1, 2016

Just as importantly, starting on July 1, 2017 and every July 1 thereafter, the bill requires that the minimum wage be increased to reflect changes in the cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index in the Washington, DC area. This will stop the real value of the minimum wage from declining over time, which is a big reason why there are numerous fights to raise it. This is a huge win for workers, and an issue that has received tremendous public attention—and support—in recent months. Hooray for this minimum wage victory! What About Tipped Workers? Although the bill does not raise the base minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers (which stands at a miserable $2.77 an hour and hopefully will be raised with other legislation), it does require that employers of tipped workers verify and certify every quarter that all of their employees do end up making at least the full minimum wage through a combination of their base wages and tips actually received. This will hopefully reduce one form of wage theft, which is common in the restaurant industry, where employees are not compensated when their tips are short for the week and don’t make up the difference between $2.77 and the full minimum wage.

Thanksgiving day is a time for family not shopping – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights Black Friday – the term alone can strike fear and excitement in even the most seasoned shoppers. But what consumers often don’t see or understand is what happens on the other side of the counter. Many stores have announced that they will be open on Thanksgiving to maximize consumer’s Black Friday enthusiasm. They have determined that shoppers are willing to curb their Thanksgiving festivities and traditions to start their holiday shopping on a day that is supposed to be centered on family and giving thanks for the blessings in one’s life. Stores like Costco, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and T.J. Maxx have resisted the urge to open on the holiday, however, many stores including Walmart, Macy’s, Toys “R” Us, and Best Buy will be open to shoppers on Thanksgiving day with some stores opening as early as 6am.

 But what does that mean for the workers who have to man the registers and stock the shelves? Many can’t show up to work at 6am on Thanksgiving – they have to get to their stores at least an hour before the doors open. What happened to their holiday? What happened to their time for family festivities and traditions? These workers tend to be low-wage earners that struggle to make ends meet. If a single mother with two children is making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and is working full time, she’s only earning $15,080 a year – well below the poverty rate for a family of three. If she’s making $10 an hour, she’s only earning $20,800 a year – still below the poverty rate and she would qualify for public assistance.

Consumers need to be aware of the reality facing these retail workers. Below is John Paul Ashton’s story of his constant struggle to put food on the table and support his family with meager wages. Ashton happens to work for Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, who also has a proven track record of using illegal retaliation and firings to intimidate and curb worker’s collective bargaining actions. Walmart, is also one of the most profitable retailers in the world. This holiday shopping season, Walmart workers will be taking a stand and protesting the company’s abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits, and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.

John Paul Ashton: Scraping By on Less Than $25K John Paul “JP” Ashton, is a 31-year old Walmart maintenance worker who makes around $20,000 a year. Originally from Colorado, Ashton now lives in Washington. He is the father of two and has worked at Walmart for more than five years to support his family. “When I first started at Walmart I was told that it was a place where I could grow and have opportunities. I soon discovered that was not the case,” said Ashton. “People take being able to buy lunch for granted. I don’t need a fancy job, but what I do need is a job that allows me to provide for my family and to be able to speak out without fear of retaliation.

It would also be nice to have more than $2 in my bank account after I pay my bills.” Ashton, who must walk 45 minutes to work, prides himself on being a provider for his family. As one of the many Walmart workers who earn less than $25,000 a year, during his time with the mega-retailer Ashton has had to, at times, rely on food banks to feed his family.

Currently, he receives food stamps in order to put food on the table. “No one wants to have to rely on food stamps to live (and trust me I know how to budget the little money I make), but at the end of the day because of what Walmart pays I have no other choice. It’s hard for me to understand how a company that makes all that money and a family that has over $144 billion can justify what they pay workers,” he said. Ashton, who enrolled in Walmart’s healthcare plan in order to provide insurance to his two children, brings home on average $1200-1400 a month.

Often he is unable to pay his rent in full because his bi-weekly paycheck does not cover the full amount. Ashton joined OUR Walmart because he wanted to have a voice on the job and the ability to speak with management about working conditions without fear of retaliation. When asked what $25,000 a year would mean for him Ashton’s remark was simple, “Freedom…freedom to do more things for my children.” “I don’t need or want much. Yes, it would be nice to have a car or maybe a house. It would even be nice to have more than $10 in my bank account. Sam Walton said ‘you treat employees right, treat customers right and we all make money.’ Walmart does not does not live up to that and I am going to keep fighting until they do.” Read about more workers like JP each week as we release more stories from the majority of Walmart employees who struggle to get by on less than $25,000 a year.

Senate briefing: How congressional mandates are thwarted by our broken regulatory process – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights From the safety of the food we eat to the air we breathe and the cars we drive—Congress has enacted landmark laws to tackle these threats to the public. Yet today, many of the rules required to execute these laws have been delayed and/or weakened as a result of a sluggish regulatory process.

Due to unnecessary delays, Congressional mandates and sensible safeguards are being held up, and the results can be catastrophic. While most people understand the basics of how a bill becomes a law, many don’t realize that federal laws that create new regulations must first clear the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) before going into effect. OIRA might be the most powerful federal agency consumers haven’t heard of. OIRA analyzes the costs and benefits of new rules passed by Congress and takes into consideration comments by the public and affected industries. Many significant rules have been trapped in OIRA purgatory. NCL and partnering organization will hold a Senate briefing tomorrow, October 25, to discuss our broken regulatory process. These common sense rules, passed by Congress, should not face years of unnecessary delays. Sign up for the event here.

A plea to USDA, stop playing chicken with our poultry – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing report on the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service’s (FSIS) pilot program for overhauling the nation’s chicken and turkey inspection regulations.

While the report focused on the food safety risks of program there are worker safety concerns as well. The poultry industry and USDA hope to roll out the regulation changes nationwide as a “modernization” to the current inspection model. The pilot, part of the HAACP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), and USDA have been sharply criticized by food and worker safety groups, including NCL, because the proposed changes increase public health risks and the safety of plant employees.

The changes would replace government trained federal inspectors with untrained private plant employees and increase the speed of inspection to 175 birds per minute – 3 birds per second. The report finds that USDA “has not thoroughly evaluated the performance of each of the pilot projects over time [15 years] even though the agency stated it would do so when it announced the pilot projects.” GAO also accuses the program of using “snapshots of data” instead of comprehensive figures reflecting all data from the entire duration of the pilot during their analysis. FSIS’s own testing has shown that some plants in the pilot program are failing to detect foodborne illness, including salmonella.

Food and worker safety groups have not been alone in calling attention to this egregious regulation change. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have been sounding the alarm on the Hill. “Our food safety system is being ‘modernized’ at the expense of worker safety and public health,” said Rep. DeLauro, who had also previously raised concerns about the rule with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The proposed rule has long been a problem, with 10 percent of chicken plants in a related program recently failing a round of salmonella testing.” It’s time for the USDA to stop playing chicken with our health, halt this ill-conceived pilot program and scrap this so-called “modernization.”