Women Speak out on Paid Sick Days
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | March 09,2014
MONTPELIER — When Tara Scribner is sick, she can take the day off and not worry about it affecting her income.
But the Burlington doctor who spent part of her day in Montpelier on Saturday knows full well there are plenty of working Vermonters who don’t have that luxury and she frequently sees the results.
“I see people all the time in clinic that don’t have paid sick days,” said Scribner. “They get really bad because they can’t afford to take time off and they try to work through it.”
Scribner said that’s why she supports a bill that would require Vermont employers to provide paid sick leave to all full- and part-time workers and why she and sons, Mateo, 3, and Indy, 6, traveled to Montpelier to participate in a planned demonstration designed to draw attention to the pending legislation.
“It’s important financially and it’s also important for health reasons,” said Scribner, who had plenty of company.
More than 150 people from around Vermont turned out for what was billed as the “Women’s March for Dignity” — an event that was scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day and focus on an issue participants of both genders were told disproportionately affects women.
Ryegate resident Sheila Reed, who works at Voices for Vermont’s Children in Montpelier, said that’s what brought her out.
“I think it (paid sick leave) is a real women’s issue,” she said. “So many low-wage workers who don’t have benefits are women.”
Reed said she is fortunate not to be one of them, but wanted to show her support for legislation that she said would allow others to take better care of themselves, as well as sick children and family members if need be.
“It’s an extremely important issue,” she said at the front end of a very vocal demonstration that saw participants sing and chant their way first up and then down State Street — briefly holding up traffic at a busy downtown intersection — before rallying in front of the State House.
Their approach was audible and aimed at Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“Hey, Shumlin, what do you say?” participants chanted. “Livable wage and sick pay!”
The chant and others like it set the stage for a series of speakers who stressed the importance of legislation and repeatedly made reference to Shumlin whose absence was mocked by one woman.
“Did Governor Shumlin take a sick day today?” she crowed.
Speakers ranged from labor leaders and medical professionals to a domestic abuse advocate and a married mother of four from Franklin County who recalled working through injury and illness as a young adult who needed every penny of her low-wage paycheck.
“I should have been able to take care of myself and maintain my personal dignity,” said Heather Getty, who now works with young women who are regularly forced to make the same difficult choices.
“Nothing has changed,” she said.
It should, according to Getty, who said requiring employers to provide paid sick leave was an “opportunity” and a “duty” for lawmakers.
“Increasing the minimum wage to make it closer to a livable wage and guaranteeing paid sick days are working for the same thing: the right to work with dignity,” she said. “The two things can’t be put into competition with each other.”
Getty was followed by the Rev. Auburn Watersong of Montpelier’s Christ Church. Watersong, who works with the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, said paid sick time could create a “critical window” for abused women to seek medical attention, consult with advocates, and arrange for shelter.
“Otherwise she (an abuse victim) is choosing between a paycheck and safety and that is no choice at all,” she said.
Participants also heard from Dr. Beth Ann Maier, a longtime central Vermont pediatrician who spoke on behalf of the Vermont Interfaith Council, which has come out in support of legislation that she said would help relieve the “unfathomable level of stress on low-income working families.”
The legislation, Maier said, would “chip away at economic inequity,” and is, in her view, overdue.
“Why are we comfortable with this economic conundrum that we have gotten ourselves into?” she asked, echoing a sentiment expressed by several who spoke.
“We can have paid sick days and a livable wage,” she said.
Other speakers included Leslie Matthews of the Vermont State Employees Association, Mari Cordes, president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, and Haley Pero, a staffer for Sen. Bernard Sanders.
Pero read a letter from Sanders expressing his support for the legislation, while Matthews and Cordes said lobbying for its passage was viewed by their unions as a priority.
“We need to raise the standards for all workers,” Matthews said.
Cordes agreed, vowing to be “persistent,” but not “patient” with respect to the legislation.