Supporting Earned Sick and Safe Time in Saint Paul

The Saint Paul Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST) Task Force recently released its recommendations for a citywide ordinance that would allow all Saint Paul workers access to earned sick and safe time. These are my remarks from a press conference on June 21, 2016, just before a public hearing on the recommendations.

Good evening. I am the Rev. Javen Swanson and I’m one of the pastors at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church here in St. Paul, and I’m also a leader with ISAIAH. We are here tonight to express our support for the St. Paul Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST) Task Force’s recommendations that all St. Paul workers have access to ESST.

The lack of ESST in St. Paul is a crisis. Research shows that more than 72,000 St. Paul workers lack access to ESST. That’s 42% of St. Paul’s workforce. And the lack of ESST disproportionately affects people of color. While 37% of St. Paul’s white workers go without ESST, 55% of Hispanic workers don’t have it, 53% of African American workers don’t have it, and 47% of Asian workers lack access to ESST.

The lack of ESST in St. Paul is a public health crisis. It’s not difficult to understand. When people go to work sick, they get other people sick. When kids go to school sick because their parents can’t stay home with them, they get other kids sick. And what’s worse, the workers who are least likely to have access to ESST are service employees who have the most frequent contact with the public. These include the restaurant employees who serve us our food.

There’s a powerful and growing movement for ESST in St. Paul. There is already a large coalition of groups working together on this issue. Those groups include ISAIAH, TakeAction Minnesota, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, CTUL, the Minnesota Nurses Association, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, SEIU, AFSCME, the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, Main Street Alliance, Jewish Community Action, and the United Food and Commercial Workers. ISAIAH alone has engaged more than 700 leaders in public meetings with St. Paul City Council members expressing support for ESST since October of last year.

Many business owners support ESST. In a moment you’ll hear from one St. Paul small business owner about why she implemented ESST at her own business at the beginning of this year. We have heard from business leaders in other communities that have already implemented it that providing access to ESST reduces turnover, increases worker productivity, and improves employee morale. They tell us these benefits outweigh the costs.

And frankly, implementing ESST is just the right thing to do. No one should have to choose between taking care of themselves and paying the rent or putting food on the table. Staying home from work when you’re sick shouldn’t be controversial; it should be mandatory. Staying home with a sick kid shouldn’t be controversial; it should be required.

We support the recommendations of the St. Paul ESST Task Force, which is comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders, including the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, workers, and community groups. The Task Force led a rigorous and intentional process and reached a consensus on a policy that all sides could support. We’re grateful that the Task Force agreed upon a recommendation to provide all St. Paul workers with ESST, and call on the St. Paul City Council to act on this proposal.

The featured image for this post was taken by Laura Johnson and is used with permission.

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