Paid sick leave: the time is now


Isabella Briseño, Staff Writer

Photo by Lexy Garcia

If San Antonio’s Sick and Safe Leave (SSL) law had not been blocked by a lawsuit from a collection of small business owners, San Antonio workers could have begun accruing paid sick time on Dec. 1, 2019. Anyone working 40 hours per week in the city could have collected 21 hours of paid sick time by March 15.

Workers experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 could be self-quarantined to ensure they wouldn’t be spreading the disease to anyone they would have interacted with on the job, but they’re worried about missing a paycheck to pay their bills. Sick workers could be visiting their doctors and getting taken care of before it’s too late, but they’re worried about losing their jobs.

But 21 hours of paid sick time would still not be enough under current conditions. For full-time workers, this is only half a week’s worth of work hours. Beyond that, there are needs this pandemic has created that extend past even the contested SSL law. 

As schools close down, workers who cannot afford child care will need to stay home and watch their children, which they’ll need paid time off for. For individuals not fortunate enough to have jobs that allow them to work from home, we need a moratorium on evictions as peoples’ income sources are compromised by cancellations and closures. Workers who are members of high-risk groups, such as those with asthma or who are immunocompromised, are better off staying home as much as possible. These people, and all working class people whose income sources have been impacted by the pandemic, need and deserve a universal basic income to keep their heads above water. And for those who are already sick, we need, and have always needed, a single-payer health care system to ensure no one will go broke while trying to take care of themselves and our community.

Not only do we need paid sick time, but we also need these more comprehensive measures — measures we should have had a long time ago. Without these measures, we are forcing people to go to work and possibly spread the virus. We are also, in some cases, forcing people onto the streets or even into the hospital — that is, if they’re not too concerned about medical bills to seek help in the first place. Events may be getting canceled, but rent is not. If our city’s leadership is serious about protecting members of our community by flattening the curve, or keeping the number of disease cases at a manageable level for health care providers through efforts like social distancing, they will consider these measures.

The end of last year was spent with San Antonio community organizers telling business owners involved in the lawsuit against SSL why we need and deserve paid sick time, and at the beginning of this new decade, we are experiencing why. Our community needed an active paid sick leave ordinance yesterday, and now, we are paying the price — and then some.