May 18, 2021

Kaine Highlights Four Virginian Stories at Senate Hearing on Paid Sick Leave

Video: https://timkaine.box.com/s/zc5jic9d0ryhqp5p9gignu0oegpowgmv

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, highlighted the stories of Virginians from Chesterfield, Fredericksburg, Norfolk, and Alexandria at a HELP Committee hearing on paid sick leave. The stories included negative experiences from employees who lacked paid sick leave and a positive experience from an employee with paid sick leave.  

“The U.S. is the only country in the OECD [the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] that doesn’t have national paid leave,” said Kaine. “What does it say about our values when we are so out of step with nations around the world who think it’s good for workers and also good for the people they serve to not have to come to work when they’re sick?” 

Kaine has long advocated for paid leave. He has cosponsored the Healthy Families Act, legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick leave to use when they are ill, need to care for a sick family member, obtain preventive care, or address the impacts of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault. 

You can view video of Kaine sharing Virginian paid leave stories at today’s HELP hearing here. The stories he shared are those of: 

  • Kelly from Chesterfield: Kelly tried to return to work for the first time in six years after taking time out of the workforce to care for her two young children. Her youngest kept getting sick because she’d never been in a daycare setting before then. Kelly tried to negotiate with her employer—a flexible schedule, work-from-home—but she was denied. Instead, she was forced to use up her limited personal time off, which went quickly due to ear infections, an asthma diagnosis, and a stay at Johnston-Willis’s Pediatric Emergency Center for pneumonia. As her personal leave dwindled and as the prospect arose of having to take unpaid time to handle her children’s needs, she was laid off from her job, a challenge that working moms across Virginia face every day.
  • Shamila from Fredericksburg: When Shamila became paralyzed due to underlying health conditions just before COVID hit, she was employed full time and was able to go out on short-term disability. She ended up being hospitalized for over seven months and was in a wheelchair. When her short-term disability ran out, her job was unable to accommodate her so she applied for unemployment but she was deemed ineligible. Her husband became her primary caretaker. In the absence of paid leave, he used up his paid time off and had to take extra unpaid leave to get her to all her doctor appointments. Now they are behind on mortgage payments and they could lose their house. Her son had to drop out of college because they couldn’t keep up with the fees. They have depleted most of their savings. She’s been lucky enough to get a new job that allows her to work from home and she can finally walk again, but due to her underlying health issues, she could be paralyzed once again at any time. 
  • Amanda from Norfolk: For the most part, Amanda didn’t need paid sick leave for herself; she needed it for other people because she worked in restaurants and bars for about ten years. In those years, she worked with fevers, coughs, colds, bronchitis, strep throat, and other infections because she also didn’t have health insurance during some of those years, so she didn’t go to the doctor if imminent death wasn’t a concern. At her job, she prepped food, made tea, coffee, folded napkins, rolled silverware, served food, poured drinks, made bread baskets, and made desserts. As she said, if it was going in your mouth or across your face, she had her hands on or near it. Working while she was sick was not only detrimental to her own health; it was also unpleasant and uncomfortable for the people she served because she could pass on her illnesses. She writes, “when people think about the need for paid sick leave, certainly the primary concern should be for the people that need sick leave because they are sick, but the people making these decisions should also consider what it means when sick people go to work and serve them.”
  • Lee from Alexandria: Lee and his husband, Randy, were on vacation in 2018 when he noticed some lower back pain. He went to see an orthopedic surgeon when they got home. At first, the surgeon recommended physical therapy, but when that didn’t help, they scheduled an MRI. The MRI showed a possible tumor. This kicked off a flurry of hospital visits, scans, and appointments with specialists. He spent a week at the hospital when the time came for the surgery to remove the tumor, and he required extensive physical therapy and check-ups afterward. Three years later, another health emergency: Randy suffered a minor heart attack due to a blood clot, requiring three days in the hospital and a similar series of therapy and follow-up doctor visits. Because they both had access to generous leave policies through their employers, Lee and Randy were able to access the care they needed while also supporting each other through very stressful health crises, without worrying about how they were going to pay their bills or whether they would a have a job to come back to.

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