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Tom Feran
By Tom Feran February 11, 2013

Sen. Sherrod Brown says three-quarters of low-income workers don’t have paid sick days

Typhoid Mary was a cook. Working at that job made her single-handedly responsible for multiple outbreaks of typhoid fever, in and around New York City, about a century ago.

PolitiFact Ohio couldn't help recalling that bit of history recently after reading advice for the flu season from the Centers for Disease Control, which urged sick people to stay home from work and school to avoid the spread of illness.

The history was freshened by last week's news that a college cafeteria worker in Indiana had been diagnosed with typhoid fever, and it came to mind when we saw a release from Sen. Sherrod Brown saying that he is co-sponsoring the Healthy Families Act, which is being reintroduced in Congress.

Also called the earned sick time initiative, the legislation would allow workers at businesses with 15 or more employees to earn paid sick days. Workers could earn up to one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of seven days.

"For far too many Americans, a day home from work means a day without pay," Brown said. "Some 40 percent of private-sector workers in the U.S. don’t have any paid sick days at all. It’s worse for low-income workers — three in four don’t have any paid sick days available."

We wondered about the numbers. Brown's staff said the source was last year's National Compensation Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Its chart for paid leave benefits shows that 61 percent of all workers in the private sector have paid sick days -- meaning about 40 percent don't have them.

Among the lowest-paid 25 percent of workers, the chart shows that 29 percent have paid sick days, meaning more than 70 percent don't have them.

Among the lowest-paid 10 percent of workers, 18 percent have sick days, so 82 percent do not. (Three in four, the figure used by Brown, is 75 percent.)

We found other figures as well:. More than three in four food service and hotel workers (78 percent) don’t have any paid sick days, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Workers without sick days are more likely to go to work with a contagious illness, according to a 2010 survey by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. And a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that a lack of sick leave helped spread 5 million cases of flu-like illness during the outbreak of 2009.

Critics of the sick leave initiative, including the National Association of Independent Businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, say paid sick days add costs to low-margin businesses, are burdensome to business and result in lost jobs.

In a recent survey of businesses by the Employment Policies Institute, "Roughly 70 percent of respondents said that Connecticut’s sick leave law was not good for business," the group said.

PolitiFact Ohio is not rating the legislation, however -- only Brown’s statement on the numbers of workers who don’t have access to paid sick days. We rate it True.

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Our Sources

PBS, "Nova: The Most Dangerous Woman in America," Oct. 12, 2004

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "How Flu Spreads," Jan. 10, 2013

CBS News, "Rare Case Of Typhoid Fever Found At Purdue University," Feb. 6, 2013

Sen. Sherrod Brown, "Ensuring Ohioans Have the Paid Sick Days They Deserve," Feb. 4, 2013

Email from Sen. Brown press office, Feb. 5, 2013

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey, July 11, 2012

Associated Press, "Flu season fuels debate over paid sick time laws," Jan. 20, 2013

Institute for Women's Policy Research, "Family Leave & Paid Sick Days"

Employment Policies Institute, "Paid Sick Leave Laws Can Hurt Employees, New Study Shows," Feb. 5, 2013

Employment Policies Institute, "Paid Sick Leave in Connecticut," Feb. 5, 2013

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Sen. Sherrod Brown says three-quarters of low-income workers don’t have paid sick days

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