Sunday, October 16, 2011

Campaign for a Healthy Denver | employees talk about working while ill

"Sick Rick" -- a volunteer dressed as a sick face surrounded by germs
 who squirts Silly String out of holes in the costume’s nose and mouth
was introduced Thursday as a mascot by the pro-Initiative 300 campaign.
Campaign for a Healthy Denver, which supports a paid-sick-leave ordinance in Denver, presented three restaurant workers Thursday who backed one of their main arguments in favor of Initiative 300: They said they’ve gone to work sick and likely gotten customers ill because their companies don’t grant paid sick days.

The move was meant to counter the claims of restaurant owners, who almost universally oppose Initiative 300, which will be on the November ballot. The owners say workers don’t come in sick because management encourages them to switch shifts with co-workers, and stay home to get well.

It also continued the theme of the Campaign for a Healthy Denver: The initiative is about improving public health, not about the negative impact on jobs and the economy that opponents say it will have.

"When you hand me your credit card to pay for your grande nonfat latte and I hand it back, I may be getting you sick," said Laura Baker, a Starbucks barista who acknowledged going into work when ill because she couldn’t afford to lose the $65 per shift she earns. "It’s places like restaurants and coffee shops and places like that that need paid sick days the most because we’re working for a low wage ... and can’t afford to stay at home," she said.

Keep Denver Competitive, the committee of business leaders fighting Initiative 300, responded that workers who admit to coming to work sick are acting illegally, and that proponents’ threats don’t change the fact that companies will cut jobs to fund paid sick leave.

"They should call the health department, because that’s already against the law," spokesman George Merritt said of the workers admitting they have come to work ill. "This group is pulling a lot of stunts to distract from the fact that people who need jobs, local businesses and city officials have all said Denver can’t afford Initiative 300."
The initiative would require that any business in Denver offer one hour of paid sick leave to employees for every 30 hours worked, capped at nine sick days per year for companies of 10 or more workers and five days per year for smaller businesses. It also would require that any employee of a company located outside city limits, who spends at least 40 hours a year working in the city, be covered by the law for the time they work in Denver.
The other two restaurant workers declined to give their full names for fear of being fired. One was a server at a "trendy" downtown restaurant who said he’s gone into work with “terrible head colds” even when handling food, fearing he would lose pay or even his job.

Initiative proponents also introduced a new mascot at the news conference — "Sick Rick," a volunteer dressed as a sick face surrounded by germs who squirts Silly String out of holes in the costume’s nose and mouth. Sick Rick will visit Denver businesses and pass out flyers, campaign leaders said.

Denver Business Journal | Ed Sealover, Reporter 


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