The following essay was written by my friend Danielle Atkinson. Danielle is Chair of MI Time to Care and the Founding Director of Mothering Justice, a statewide organization working to improve the lives of Michigan families by equipping the next generation of mother activists.
Six years ago, I founded Mothering Justice to fill a void for mothers across the state: To create an organization by mothers, for mothers and the issues that impact our families on a daily basis. One of the biggest issues that we face: Not being able to earn paid sick days at our jobs.
Before I started the organization, I had a job like that where I couldn’t earn paid sick days. If I got sick, I had to take a day off work without pay. And once I had children, the problem became even more pronounced. Check-ups with the pediatrician, a bout of the flu, even nothing serious, added up and meant a much smaller paycheck that week.
Like a lot of Michiganders, I’m part of the sandwich generation, taking care of my kids and parents at the same time. While my mom battled breast cancer, she cobbled together days off for her treatment, and I shuttled between being by her bedside and taking care of my dad who was also sick. I couldn’t catch my breath, let alone think about how my bills were piling up every time I had to take a day off to take care of someone and didn’t get paid.
I knew that if I was struggling – a family with two working parents – then there were millions of women like me, or in more difficult positions, who needed a voice, and needed policies that reflect their day-to-day lives. Through the years, I have heard so many stories like my own from members who have battled illness personally or at their children’s – or parent’s – bedside. They know what it’s like to be short at the end of the month because they did what they had to for their family and took time off.
It was six years ago when Mothering Justice was just getting started that we realized earned paid sick days was an issue we had to take to the legislature. We carefully crafted the proposed policy with input from working moms (and dads) and members of communities all across the state. For years, we found legislators who supported earned paid sick days and introduced legislation. Every year, we brought this proposal to the legislature, and every year, they failed to act. This year, we gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures and received overwhelming support from Marquette to Muskegon.
Because of our actions and the popularity of the issue, the legislature passed the first earned paid sick time law in the Midwest. Beginning next spring, people in Michigan will be able to earn up to 72 hours of earned paid sick time. For many, it means they will be able to take a day off when they are sick, stay home with a sick child or care for a sick parent without fear of losing a day’s pay for the first time in their working life.
Lawmakers beholden to corporate special interests have been openly discussing their post-election plans to gut the earned paid sick days law they just passed. These well-funded special interest groups are pressuring the legislature to use their lame duck session at the end of November to undermine the new law and make changes that would that would effectively make the policy worthless for working families. Legislators know this is their one chance to weaken an extremely popular measure that was likely to pass overwhelmingly on Election Day if it had gone to a vote to the people.
So, the push for paid sick days for every Michigan family is not over. We will not stand for any attempt by the legislature to take away the rights and protections enshrined in this popular and commonsense law – before Michiganders have a chance to benefit from it.
We began this campaign with the goal of giving nearly two million Michiganders the right to earn paid sick days. And we won’t stop until we all have the right to earn paid sick days.
[CC photo credit: Kyle J. Schultz | Flickr]