When I read what the Connecticut Restaurant Association had to say about the proposed paid sick days bill, I had to respond. They say paid sick leave is a bad idea for restaurants. People who own restaurants might feel that way, but those of us who work at restaurants – or eat at them – feel very differently.

I’ve worked at a large national chain restaurant in Enfield for nineteen years. If you want to know why we need paid sick days, spend a few days in the kitchen of a restaurant during the flu season. Restaurant owners who oppose paid sick days seem to imagine that their employees just don’t get sick. Wrong! Just because you don’t give us paid sick days doesn’t mean we don’t get sick.

When we do get sick, all too often we’ll just come to work. Is that healthy? No. But the fact is, restaurant workers aren’t exactly millionaires, and we can’t afford to lose the pay or risk losing our jobs. In fact, it’s hard enough for restaurant workers to keep up with the bills on our paychecks, even when we get to work all of our scheduled hours. Losing pay is just not an option.

Just recently, one of my co-workers came to work with a nasty stomach bug. Her symptoms included vomiting and diarrhea. And she was contagious. I know this for a fact because within a day or two several of us – including me – had caught the infection from her. Many of those co-workers were back at work the next day, sick or not.

It turns out this is not uncommon. A recent survey of restaurant workers that made the news said that 12% of all restaurant workers have come to work with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea twice in the past year. This doesn’t even include the countless times we’ve all come to work with a cold or the flu.

Of course we all try to be as careful as possible. None of us want to expose other employees or customers to an illness. But it does happen. According to the Center for Disease Control, it happens a lot. Every year about 21 million Americans contract a “noro-virus” – food-borne illness. And half of those are caused by sick employees preparing and handling food.

The Restaurant Association says that restaurants have seen “challenging days.” Well, the restaurant I work for made over $700 million in sales last year. It is owned by a private equity firm called Sun Capitol Partners; in 2009, the CEO of Sun Capitol Partners was worth nearly $400 million, including a 15,000 square foot mansion in Boca Raton, a vacation home in Stowe, six cars, and a private jet.  Yeah, it sounds like he’s really struggling. The next time I’m feeling sick and I’m wondering if I should come to work or stay home without pay, I’ll consider the “challenging days” of this poor CEO. Then I’ll probably take some Zicam or DayQuill or Pepto and come to work.

Or, we could pass the paid sick days bill and keep all of us a bit healthier, food servers and customers alike.

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