Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Edward Kennedy, Sr.
Date: May 21, 2009
Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 21, 2009)

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By Mr. REID (for Mr. Kennedy (for himself, Mr. Dodd, Mr. Harkin, Ms. Mikulski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Brown, Mr. Casey, Mr. Inouye, Mr. Levin, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Akaka, Mrs. Boxer!, Mr. Feingold, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Burr, and Mrs. Gillibrand)):

S. 1152. A bill to allow Americans to earn paid sick time so that they can address their own health needs and the health needs and the health needs of their families; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, in this turbulent economy, working families are facing enormous challenges. Too many families are living paycheck to paycheck, just one layoff or health crisis away from disaster. Now more than ever, workers are struggling to balance the demands of their jobs and their families. When a sickness or health problem arises, these challenges can easily become insurmountable.

Unfortunately, almost half of all private sector workers--including 79 percent of low-wage workers--have no paid sick days they can use to care for themselves or a sick family member. For these workers, taking a day off to care for their own health or a sick child means losing a much-needed paycheck, or even putting their jobs in danger. In a recent survey, 1 in 6 workers reported that they or a family member have been fired, punished or threatened with termination for taking time off because of their own illness or to care for a sick relative.

Workers can't afford to take that kind of risk now. Losing even one paycheck can mean falling behind on bills, foregoing needed medicines, or skipping meals. As a result, many employees continue to go to work when they are ill, and send their children to school or day care sick, because it's the only way to make ends meet.

The lack of paid sick day is not just a crisis for individual families--it is a public health crisis as well. The current flu outbreak provides a compelling illustration. To prevent the spread of the virus, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and numerous state and local public health officials urged people to stay home from work or school if they flu-like symptoms. Strong scientific evidence proves that this is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease and protect the public health.

But without paid sick days, following this sound advice is often impossible--millions of employees want to do the right thing and stay home, but our current laws just do not protect them. The Family and Medical Leave Act enables workers to take time off for serious health conditions, but only about half of today's workers are covered by the act, and millions more can not take advantage of it because this leave is unpaid.

Hardworking Americans should not have to make these impossible choices. That's why Senator Dodd, Representative Rosa DeLauro and I are introducing the Healthy Families Act, which will enable workers to take up to 56 hours, or about 7 days, of paid sick leave each year. Employees can use this time to stay home and get well when they are ill, to care for a sick family member, to obtain preventive or diagnostic treatment, or to seek help if they are victims of domestic violence.

This important legislation will provide needed security for working families struggling to balance the jobs they need and the families they love. It will improve public health and reduce health costs by preventing the spread of disease and giving employees the access they need to obtain preventive care. It will also help victims of domestic violence to protect their families and their futures.

In addition, the legislation will benefit businesses by decreasing employee turnover, and improving productivity. ``Presenteeism''--sick workers coming to work and infecting their colleagues instead of staying at home--costs our economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity. For employers, the cost averages $255 per employee per year, and exceeds the cost of absenteeism and medical and disability benefits. The lack of paid sick days also leads to higher employee turnover, especially for low-wage workers. When the benefits of the Healthy Families Act are weighed against its costs, providing paid sick days will actually save American businesses up to $9 billion a year by eliminating these productivity losses and reducing turnover.

Above all, enabling workers to earn paid sick time to care for themselves and their families is a matter of fundamental fairness. Every worker has had to miss days of work because of illness. Every child gets sick and needs a parent at home to take care of them. And all hardworking Americans deserve the chance to take care of their families without putting their jobs or their health on the line.

It is long past time for our laws to deal with these difficult choices that working men and women face every day. As President Obama has said, ``Nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child.'' I urge all of my colleagues to join in supporting the Healthy Families Act.