Fighting to 'raise up'

Proponents of a statewide initiative to raise the minimum wage and expand access to paid sick leave made their case on Thursday for why voters should back the sweeping measure designed to reduce economic inequality in Washington.

Their pitch? Think of the children.

“Kids are ready to learn and to grow in our buildings,” said Sebrena Burr, president of the Seattle Council PTSA. “But kids are not in silos, and we have to support families if we are going to support educational success for every child. All children are full of potential and brilliance. Poverty, inequality, racism, they all block the potential of our kids. When we create healthy communities and economic opportunities, we help to unlock the potential of each and every child.”

With students across the state heading back to school this past week, the emphasis during Thursday’s press conference at the Kavana Cooperative Preschool on Queen Anne was on the sick and safe leave portion of Initiative 1433. While Seattle, Tacoma, SeaTac, and Spokane already have passed legislation, no other municipality in the state currently requires employers to provide paid sick days. If approved, more than 1 million Washington workers would have the opportunity to earn paid sick leave, while those making the minimum wage would see their hourly rate increase to $13.50 over four years.

One of the biggest ways to support children and families, proponents of the initiative said, is to give parents the flexibility to stay home when their kids are sick, without the fear of losing a paycheck or their job.

Paola Marana, executive director for the Children’s Alliance, framed the issue as one of inequality, noting that four-of-five of families above 200 percent of the federal poverty line have access to paid sick leave, compared to just one-of-five of those under that mark.

“No parent should have to choose between a day’s pay and the needs of a sick child,” she said.

The consequences of not having that choice is something Dr. Lelach Rave said she would see firsthand working in the emergency room at Seattle Children’s.

“We would regularly see folks coming in with sick kids at midnight, 1 in the morning, and while we sort of scratched our heads and thought, ‘Why are they keeping the kids up this late?’ it became evident that parents were there at those crazy hours because they could not get them to physicians care during the day,” she said. “They had jobs that would not allow them to leave.”

Now, as a pediatrician at the Everett Clinic in Mukilteo, Rave has patients visiting her much later than they should during the course of their illness, again because of a parent’s inability to get time off work.

“What could have been something simple has now progressed into something more serious,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by Terri Helm-Remund, a school nurse.

“When children are sick, they can’t learn,” she said. “The best thing for them is to go home, rest, come back and start again on a new day. Yet all too often I’ve had the experience of children having to sit in the health room waiting for a parent, sometimes until the end of the day, because the parent is afraid of losing the job, or can’t afford to take the day off or the time off to come get their child.”

Helm-Remund, the former president of the School Nurses’ Organization of Washington, also noted that sending kids to school with an illness puts others at risk. In a release, the campaign cited a recent study that found flu rates dropped by an average of five percent in cities that had passed policies allowing all workers to earn paid sick leave.

When questions at the end of the event turned to the funding mechanism for the measure, Burr reiterated the need to lift up families across the state and put the needs of the next generation ahead of the financial cost of the present.

“So often we put pay over people, and that’s why we are where we are,” Burr said. “The best and most stable businesses, if you look at it, are the businesses who take care of their employees.” That’s all 1433 is, asking you to do the right thing for your people and your employees.”

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