Health care workers advocate for paid sick leave for all
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Nurses and others say so many people working while sick is stretching the system to its limits in a pandemic

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak when healthcare workers are on the frontline treating highly contagious patients, risking their own health and the health of their families members, medical professionals across the state are demanding paid sick leave for every worker in Wisconsin, not just those in the medical field.

In a letter addressed to Gov. Tony Evers, state Department of Health Services Sec. Andrea Palm, and individual healthcare systems, the healthcare workers demand a safer work environment for everyone by the extension of paid sick leave to allow people who are sick to stay home.

Nurses at individual hospitals signed the petition. It will be delivered to hospital administration.

“No worker should ever have to come to work sick because they can’t afford to stay home, in this industry or in any other. That’s why we are fighting for paid sick leave for every worker in Wisconsin,” read the letter.

“We already see sick patients coming to the hospital straight from their jobs, because they could not afford to call in sick. This is unacceptable under any circumstances, but especially during a pandemic.”

Ann Louise Tetreault, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, which coordinated the effort, said some hospitals already were “stepping up” their paid sick leave policies in light of the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed three lives and infected 206 in Wisconsin.  

Those who are sick are required to be self-quarantined for 14 days either at home or in a hospital, depending on the severity of their symptoms. Even those who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive are supposed to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Tetreault, and other healthcare providers on a call with reporters Friday, said many workers do not have the ability to take that much time off without losing their jobs. 

Allison Sork, a registered nurse with 15 years experience who works at Meriter Hospital in Madison, said no health care worker, union or non-union, should be penalized for calling in sick. At some hospitals, part-time nurses are only allowed four sick days per year. 

“This is one of the things we are navigating during this pandemic,” she said. “We need to improve paid leave policies. An absence should not be used against you.”

The healthcare workers also wantall healthcare employers to cover the full cost of COVID-19 testing for employees, including necessary doctor’s visits and providing up to an additional eight weeks of time off, specifically-designated to cover absences related to COVID-19, and no attempts by an employer to discern whether exposure occurred at work or via community spread. 

“As healthcare workers, we believe all Wisconsin residents, and indeed, in the USA, should have paid sick leave, but for those of us on the front lines, this is non-negotiable,” read the letter.