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Rep. Jan Schakowsky Backs Sick Leave Requirements

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.); Photo Credit: Dean La Prairie

After she admittedly failed to live on the minimum wage in August, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has voiced strong support for increasing workers’ pay. At a forum at Roosevelt University in Chicago on Tuesday, she came out in support for making paid sick leave mandatory.

A co-sponsor of the proposed Schedules That Work Act (HR 5159), Schakowsky said at the forum that the bill is designed to protect low-wage workers from employer retaliation when they request time off for sickness, childcare, secondary job requirements or to attend school. She also expressed support for the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (HR 3712), which mandates paid sick leave for all workers, and the Healthy Families Act (HR 1286), which establishes seven earned paid sick leave days each year.

“These are winnable fights,” Schakowsky said. “We’re starting to win them now.”

Schakowsky also said a good reason to raise the minimum wage was to support women. Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Providing paid sick leave will allow more women to take care of their children and families, Schakowsky said.

Jessica Milli, a senior researcher at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told about 70 people attending the forum that 42 percent of private-sector workers in Chicago currently have extremely limited or no access to paid sick leave. Women are slightly more likely to have access than men, but even then, there is disparity. She said 53 percent of Hispanic women, 40 percent of black women and 35 percent of white women have no access to paid sick leave in Chicago, with slightly higher rates for men.

“When women succeed, America succeeds,” Schakowsky said. “That’s not a slogan, it’s just a fact.”

Chicago aldermen Joe Moore (49th Ward), Will Burns (4th Ward) and Toni Foulkes (15th Ward) also attended the forum, along with Illinois State Representatives Christian Mitchell, Lisa Hernandez and Daniel Biss and 39th District state representative candidate Will Guzzardi. Burns chairs the Mayor Rahm Emanuel-appointed Minimum Wage Working Group, of which Moore is a member. It advocates raising the city’s minimum wage to $13 per hour, and Foulkes has voiced her support for a higher minimum wage in the past.

Carlos Romero, an organizer with Restaurant Opportunities Chicago, a workers’ organization that advocates for better conditions for restaurant workers, said he wasn’t surprised by the pitch.

“It’s reelections,” Romero said. “This is an opportunity for us to get s–t done.”

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