The PA Rescue Plan Gives Workers the Power – to Protect You

State Rep. Emily KinkeadCredit: Commonwealth Media Services
Op-Ed by State Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-Allegheny

You wouldn’t want to be served a hamburger by a worker with COVID-19 who was forced to come to work while sick or couldn’t afford to take the days off to isolate. You’d probably never go to that restaurant again, and you’d tell everyone you know about how your life was risked by such desperate and reckless behavior.

So, why would you tolerate being treated that way when the same worker is sick with the flu and can’t take a day off?

COVID-19 didn’t create the problem of workers in service industries not being able to afford to take sick leave, but the virus made sick leave everyone’s problem.

A service industry worker has always had to perform a balancing act between infecting customers and co-workers versus missing a shift and a paycheck, but now we live in an era when being exposed on the job means a 14-day quarantine.

Sure, vaccines are going in arms at record pace, but people will still get sick and can infect others with countless other diseases.

The problem for workers is still there: how can someone too sick to work, but too broke to take a day off, protect themselves, customers and co-workers alike?

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We have a plan: The PA Rescue Plan.

As part of our investments in workers and making sure the federal American Rescue Plan money goes where it does the best, we’re creating a way to give workers the power to afford time off – without requiring anything on the part of their employers. While big companies usually have the resources and enough workers to offer paid sick leave, most smaller companies with just a handful of workers just can’t make the math work.

Our plan would create a special Paid Sick Leave Fund administered by the state Department of Labor and Industry that would withhold a tiny portion – something like one half of one percent — of a worker’s wages to be placed in this fund. These funds would be used for serious healthcare issues for workers or direct family members.

Employers could choose to take part, too – and given the positive impact paid sick leave has on workers and customers, we’re sure most employers would want to join in.

The program wouldn’t be accessible until six months after the bill passes so the fund can be strong, but we would start it with a serious investment of $250 million. This would ensure the fund has a strong start and give our workers peace of mind.

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Now, even though this is a voluntary program for employers, you’ll hear a lot of the same old lies. By preserving Pennsylvania’s antiquated laws that can be traced back to pre-union days, when workers had absolutely no rights and an injured miner or factory worker’s family would be charged for the damage their injuries caused to the company’s machines, right-wing extremists defend this funhouse mirror version of “freedom.”

It’s time to start treating Pennsylvania workers like they do in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. If it works there, it will work here.

Our plan would protect workers who choose to stay home and get better faster, thus being able to return to the job healthy in less time.

It would protect the rest of the staff, who won’t get infected by a sick person who can’t afford to take time off.

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It also would protect the profit margin, because those workers staying home to get better don’t infect an entire store or restaurant full of people – people who will not forget where they got sick.

Our plan makes sense and doesn’t cost businesses a dime.

Our essential workers have heard a lot of kind words. We’re past just talking. We’re ready to start delivering real help with the PA Rescue Plan.

Visit www.pahouse.com/parescueplan to learn more about paid sick leave, hazard pay grants, and countless more investments that would help us to recover, restore, and reimagine a better future – for everyone.

State Rep. Emily Kinkead is serving her first term representing the 20th State House District in Allegheny County.

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