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Labor unions, essential workers call on state to bring back COVID-19 paid sick leave

SEIU Local 121 members gather at a worker's rights demonstration on Labor Day in downtown San Diego, Sept. 4, 2017.
Nicholas McVicker
SEIU Local 121 members gather at a worker's rights demonstration on Labor Day in downtown San Diego, Sept. 4, 2017.

Labor unions and essential workers are urging lawmakers to once again provide COVID-19 paid sick leave. Advocates argue without it, people who have the virus may be going to work too early.

"The public health research is clear — when workers have the option to isolate and not lose their earnings — transmission goes down," said Tia Orr, the interim executive director for California's Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Orr said two weeks of COVID-19 paid leave is needed during a record surge in infections and rising hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant.

"If you or your children are sick or have been exposed you need to make sure not to pass it on and that means staying at home," Orr said. "But unfortunately if you have to go to work in order to pay rent or put food on the table you might not feel like you have a choice."

Labor unions, essential workers call on state to bring back COVID-19 paid sick leave

Rheannon Ramos,who works at a Southern California Stater Bros grocery store, said she ended up testing positive but did not have enough sick time to cover her quarantine. Now she said she is out of sick days through August.

"I had the choice, to ignore my results and continue to work as money was very tight just coming off disability," Ramos said. "But I stayed home and I made the decision to protect my coworkers and customers."

Labor unions — including the United Nurses Associations of California, which represents more than 9,000 San Diego healthcare workers — are calling on employers to provide sick leave right now. Registered nurse Jeffery Nuguid is currently isolating at home after testing positive.

"Right now while I’m off I have to use PTO, also known as paid time off," he said. "If I run out of this PTO I will not be getting paid unless I go on medical leave. Some of my colleagues might not even be getting paid because they don’t have enough PTO accrued. Our nurse workforce is exhausted and we need the governor and legislature to help us."

Earlier this week Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated that he is onboard with re-upping the sick leave which expired last September.

"It’s manageable, but it’s challenging," Newsom said of the current surge and how it's impacting workers during his budget announcement Monday. "We are in discussions with legislative leaders around our sick leave policy and we believe it’s important to value those workers and provide them sick leave protections."

Teachers are also calling for lawmakers to act quickly.

"I can speak from experience," said E Toby Boyd, the California Teachers Association president. "I, like most educators, receive a finite number of sick days per school year. When those days are gone, they are gone."