Monthly Archive for October, 2011

Dispatch from Denver: A Haunting Thought

One of the delights of an early November election is volunteering for a campaign on Halloween. When I arrived at the Campaign for a Healthy Denver headquarters today, a large group of volunteers were already there in their paid sick days themed costumes. There were doctors and nurses in scrubs and surgical masks, patients who looked like they’d come straight from a hospital bed (one man was even on crutches), under-the-weather cooks and servers, a sick teacher and, of course, Sick Rick the giant germ himself. We all headed out to various neighborhoods around the city, to make one last push for Initiative 300 before Election Day tomorrow.

As I traveled around West Denver later in the day, I saw street after street filled with parents taking their kids trick-or-treating. Many of these parents must have made a special effort to get home early in order to take their kids out before nightfall. I couldn’t help but think how lucky they must be to have employers who understand the importance of managing both work and family responsibilities. They’re probably lucky enough to earn paid sick time – for those times when caring for children isn’t as fun as trick-or-treating, but a matter of basic health.

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Denver parents and their children aren’t so lucky. In these families, kids not only miss out on trick-or-treating as a family, but also time at home and doctor’s appointments when they’re sick, preventive care when they’re healthy, and an illness-free school environment… all because their parents aren’t able to earn paid sick days. On a holiday that is at its core about family togetherness, this is a haunting thought. 

Workplace Support a Critical Step toward Eliminating Poverty

Cross-posted from National Partnership for Women & Families.

One of the biggest threats to the well-being of our nation’s women and families is poverty. Right now, more than 46 million Americans live below the poverty line, which is a little more than $22,000 for a family of four. And with high unemployment, job scarcity and insecurity, and increasing prices for basic necessities, millions more find themselves on the brink every day.

To address this growing poverty problem, Half in Ten – an exciting project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Coalition on Human Needs, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – released a new report this week on where the country stands in key areas affecting families’ economic security, and where we need to go to cut poverty in half in the next 10 years.

The report, Restoring Shared Prosperity Strategies to Cut Poverty and Expand Economic Growth, focuses on the importance of creating good jobs, strengthening families and promoting economic security. It sends a powerful message about what the nation’s families need. And we couldn’t agree more.

At the National Partnership, we know that quality jobs that offer fair pay and paid sick days are critical to the economic well-being of families, so we were pleased to see that access to these basic workplace standards are among the benchmarks used in the report to measure the nation’s progress. In fact, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Center for American Progress President John Podesta and Half in Ten Director Melissa Boteach all identified access to paid sick leave as a key indicator of poverty reduction at the report’s launch event.

For families already on the brink of poverty, a few paid sick days can have devastating consequences. And low-income working parents are much less likely than parents with incomes over 200 percent of the poverty line to have any form of paid leave.

As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

Basic workplace supports like paid sick days, paid leave and flexibility allow working people to keep their jobs while providing for their families – ultimately enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty or prevent it altogether. There could not be a better time to implement the report’s recommendations and reduce barriers to employment and job security. We applaud Half in Ten for prioritizing these policies and raising awareness of the immense challenges facing working people and their families.

The policy prescriptions outlined in Half in Ten’s new report are critical to ensuring America’s families can live free from poverty – and standards like paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and fair pay can immediately alleviate some of the challenges faced by millions. We look forward to next steps and supporting the campaign as it continues.

To read the full report and state fact sheets, visit

Dispatch from Denver: Purple Thursday

When I was packing my suitcase for Denver, I made sure to throw in a purple sweater. Why? Because Thursday, October 27, was “Purple Thursday,” a day when advocates seeking an end to domestic violence wear purple to raise awareness, celebrate survivors and mourn those lost to violence. I knew that friends of mine back in Washington, D.C., were participating in this tradition, and I wanted to bring it to Denver in solidarity.

It’s also very appropriate to my mission in Denver – helping to pass Initiative 300 (I-300). Like most paid sick days proposals, I-300 includes a provision that allows survivors of domestic and sexual violence and stalking to use their earned sick time, referred to as paid “safe days,” to address needs related to a violent incident, like getting medical or legal assistance or finding a safe place to stay. Unfortunately, survivors of domestic and sexual violence are extremely susceptible to job loss, particularly when they don’t have a way to take the job-protected time they need. This is not only unfair, but also a terrible blow to survivors’ economic security at a time when they can least afford it. I-300 would let them take care of their needs while protecting their jobs.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, when advocates work extra hard to educate their communities about the preventable dangers of domestic violence. Denver voters have a chance to give a helping hand to survivors of violence on November 1 by passing Initiative 300. It’s not the be-all end-all of ending violence, but it’s a much-needed step that will significantly and positively impact survivors and their families.

An Important First Step for Philly

In a significant victory for workers in Philadelphia, the City Council voted 15-2 to pass a provision providing workers at businesses that contract with or receive financial support from the city to the right to earn paid sick days. Yesterday, Mayor Nutter made clear that he won’t veto it. And it is now law.

Thanks to the dedication of workers, advocates and legislators, this victory means that more workers in Philadelphia will have the right to earn the paid sick days they need to recover from illness and care for their families starting next summer. The city has taken an important first step toward a citywide standard.

Congratulations to the more than 100 organizations in the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces and its allies. The support for and momentum behind paid sick days continues.

Dispatch from Denver: Winter Wonderland

Hi, all. It’s Helen, work and family policy associate at the National Partnership. I arrived in Denver on Wednesday just hours before the city was hit with its first snowfall of the year. Check out this photo of the scene outside the front door of the kind folks who put me up!

Katie and I spent most of the day delivering yard signs to supporters of Initiative 300. We drove all over Denver – luckily the roads were clear of snow – and got to check out some beautiful neighborhoods. It was gratifying to turn down a street and see “YES on 300” signs already on display in front yards, thanks to the good work of Sara, Rachel and the other Campaign for a Healthy Denver volunteers. And even though Election Day is only a few days away, the yard sign requests are still coming in!

That’s because Denver families know that a paid sick days standard makes sense. People in all kinds of jobs, at all income levels, and with diverse political affiliations agree that it’s the right thing to do for the city when they hear that more than 107,000 Denver workers – and 74 percent of restaurant workers – are currently struggling without a single paid sick day. Despite the well-funded, highly visible opposition campaign, seeing “YES on 300” signs in the snow-covered yards of supporters gives me hope that we’re getting through.

Dispatch from Denver: Back to D.C.

After 10 days of volunteering with the Campaign for a Healthy Denver, I am headed back to D.C. Working on the ground to help pass paid sick days in Denver has been a great experience, filled with wonderful, passionate workers and advocates who are committed to ensuring Denverites have the right to earn the time they need to care for their health and protect the health of their communities.

As I leave, I feel the urgency and need for Initiative 300 more than ever. Knocking on doors and making phone calls to talk directly with workers and individuals who would benefit from the law has given me a window into lives of Denver’s hardworking families, and the challenges workers face when they don’t have access to paid sick days.

As I depart, I leave my responsibilities in the capable hands of my National Partnership colleagues, Katie and Helen. I am excited that they will be working alongside the other fantastic volunteers for the Campaign for a Healthy Denver. Snow is in the forecast, so stay warm and bundle up, you two, as you continue to spread the word about the importance of voting YES on Initiative 300. And keep an eye out for those funny prairie dogs!

Dispatch from Denver: David v. Goliath

We are just one week away from the deadline for Denver voters to turn in their ballots – and vote YES on Initiative 300. It feels like there is an almost tangible energy in the air (I’ve finally acclimated to the altitude, so I don’t think it’s that). The Campaign for a Healthy Denver kicked off this final week with an eye-opening press event this morning.

The campaign’s event announced the release of a report that documents the opposition’s major funding sources. It turns out that national restaurant chains and business lobbies have contributed significantly to efforts to defeat the local Denver paid sick days initiative. In fact, more than $250,000 of the almost $650,000 raised by Initiative 300 opponents has come from national, out-of-state groups.

The Campaign for a Healthy Denver, on the other hand, is a coalition of 156 Denver based public health groups, civil rights organizations, women’s organizations, labor unions and forward-thinking businesses. The push for paid sick days in Denver really is a David versus Goliath fight.

The opposition’s spending is reflected in the comments I’ve heard from voters when phonebanking and canvassing. Breaking through the opposition’s messaging has been challenging but, once voters understand why paid sick days are so important, they see why voting yes on Initiative 300 is the right thing to do.

Today’s press event called out the opposition’s big money. We need to spread the word and do our best to make sure common sense prevails so that voters vote YES on Initiative 300!

Dispatch from Denver: Sick Rick Goes Viral

Hi, everyone! I’m Katie, a legal fellow at the National Partnership. I arrived in Denver late last week and have been busy volunteering with the Campaign for a Healthy Denver the past few days. This weekend, I got a chance to interview the campaign’s six-foot-tall mascot, Sick Rick, for YouTube.

Since his debut in downtown Denver, Sick Rick has gained a lot of attention. He symbolizes the germs that spread when the more than 107,000 Denver workers without paid sick days must work while sick. The threat to public health is real, and Sick Rick is helping to raise awareness.

Opponents of paid sick days in Denver have criticized Sick Rick as a political stunt that is hurting businesses. They fail to realize that Sick Rick isn’t the problem – the problem is the failure to adopt workplace policies that allow workers to earn paid sick days, so they can stay home when they are sick. And that’s why we need Initiative 300.

To amplify Sick Rick’s message and explain his role in the campaign for Initiative 300, the Campaign for a Healthy Denver decided to create a video to explain the purpose of the mascot. That’s where I – subtly dubbed “Warbara Balters” for the interview – come in…

In the video, which will be available soon, viewers find out that Sick Rick’s uncle, Big Business, has been wining and dining the germ in Denver. Big Business has apparently facilitated Sick Rick’s introduction to a variety of workers by failing to provide paid sick days. Warbara Balters even offers the germ a chance to respond to scathing accusations that the germ flourishes among Denver’s children because, when working parents don’t have paid sick days, kids are often forced to go to school or day care sick where they can spread illness.

Sick Rick tries to turn the tables and emphasize the campaign’s toll on his own family. It seems his cousin, Cyrus the Virus, was devastated by Seattle’s passage of a paid sick days measure last month. And Sick Rick is too distraught to even discuss the difficulties for a germ living in San Francisco given the city’s progressive paid sick days protections for workers. In his closing plea, the germ says that opposing Initiative 300 is a matter of survival if germs want to thrive – just before spraying a silly-string sneeze all over a disgusted and stunned Warbara Balters.

Overall, the video is an entertaining attempt at explaining the very real consequences when so many Denver workers cannot earn any paid sick days. I’ll check back in soon with a link to the video!

UPDATE: The video is up! Check it out:

Dispatch from Denver: “Where are We Going to Eat?”

One of the first questions I asked when I hit the ground here in Denver was “Where are we going to eat?” I knew that 74 percent of Denver restaurant workers don’t have a single paid sick day – meaning many restaurants had the potential to make me sick. How was I going to get my Mexican food fix without knowing which restaurants offer paid sick days?

As it turns out, there are plenty of local restaurants here in Denver that offer and support paid sick days. I learned that forward-thinking restaurants like Parsley, which has delectable sandwiches, understand that when employees are healthy, businesses profit. 

Opponents of Initiative 300 would have you believe that every restaurant in Denver opposes paid sick days, but don’t let them fool you! That is simply not true. Initiative 300 has the support of more than 40 businesses throughout the city. Check out this map to see the whole list, and then show your support by patronizing them.

It’s not just these businesses that support the proposal. The Campaign for a Healthy Denver is a coalition of more than 150 hard working community organizations, labor groups, faith leaders and organizations, and public health groups that recognize that a paid sick days standard will support a healthier community, a more productive workforce and a stronger economy.

So for now, I am eating well in Denver. There may be more traditional campaign food in my future though. Bring on the coffee, pizza and Swedish fish!

Dispatch from Denver: A Letter from Patricia Schroeder

Hi, everyone! I want to share a great letter published in the Denver Post this week. It’s from former Colorado Congresswoman and women’s rights leader Patricia Schroeder. Check it out here.

Congresswoman Schroeder served Denver and the state of Colorado for nearly 25 years as the first woman elected to Congress from Colorado. Her letter sends a compelling message about the need for paid sick days to benefit women and all families in the city. I especially like the way she closes it out with a call to action:

“Denver voters have an opportunity to do better. By voting ‘yes’ for Initiative 300, the city’s paid sick days proposal, you can help give all workers the chance to earn paid sick time. Opponents are pouring money into blocking this badly needed, family friendly measure, but it’s the right thing to do for Denver women, families, businesses and for the public health.”

Having been on the ground in Denver, I know just how visible the opposition’s message is here. We need more leaders like Patricia Schroeder to speak out about what is at stake in this election, and the need for paid sick days. As she said, it’s the right thing to do.