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Corporations Spread the Flu

(Photo: Marshall Astor / Flickr)

Flu season is upon us – and it’s a nasty one this year. You probably know of a handful of people who’ve already contracted the bug in what the Center for Disease Control is calling the worst flu season in ten years.

What’s worse is that Corporate America is multiplying the harmful effects of this flu season by not offering its workers paid sick time off. According to a recent survey by the Food Chain Workers Alliance, nearly 80% of food workers say they don’t receive paid sick leave, and more than half say that without those benefits, they’re forced to come into work with an illness.

For many nurses around the country who don’t have paid sick leave, they have to hide their illnesses or risk not being able to pay the rent that month. When a healthcare worker shows signs of illness, they are sent home and can’t return to work until 72 hours after their last symptom goes away. And since days of not collecting a paycheck can put a serious dent in a family’s finances, many nurses and other hospital employees just hop themselves up on Sudafed for days desperately trying to cover up the symptoms.

No one wants sick people preparing their food at restaurants or caring for us at hospitals, especially during flu season. But that’s exactly what’s happening, because Corporate America has sucked every last penny of profits they can out of their workers: flat-lining their wages in the face of increased productivity, busting up their unions, corner-cutting workplace safety regulations, and now cutting time-off opportunities for the flu.

One reason they can get away with this is there are no federal protections for sick workers. The United States is the only developed nation in the entire world that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave to its workers.

And now we all have to suffer the consequences of this corporate greed. In 2009, the American Journal of Public Health found that as many as 5 million more people were sickened by the H1N1 flu as a direct result of lack of access to paid sick leave. Who knows how many more people will be sickened this year?

But now, some are fighting back.

The group, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United – or ROC-UNITED – has launched a campaign targeting one of the larger corporate abusers of workers’ rights when it comes to paid sick leave: Darden Restaurants, which controls more than 1,900 restaurants including chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden, and employs 168,000 employees.

You can check out ROC-UNITED’s brilliant new web ad right here.

The point the group is making is that none of Darden’s restaurants provide paid sick leave. And so servers and others handling your food just can’t afford to take a day off when they’re sick.

It’s also worth noting that Darden earned a profit of a half-billion dollars last year and its CEO raked in a not-too-shabby $8.5 million. He gets paid time off when he’s sick, by the way. Once again, profits and executive paychecks outweigh the public good.

Corporate America isn’t going to suddenly find it in its heart to treat their workers better, which is why we need to pass federal laws guaranteeing basic paid sick leave to all American workers. But until then, maybe we can push them in the right direction by taking action with our wallets and pocketbooks.

Before you dine out, it’s worth calling the restaurant to see if they offer paid sick leave to their workers. If they don’t, then during a flu season like this, it’s more than likely someone at that restaurant is trying to cover up an illness – which you may well carry home. So, both for moral and very practical health reasons, it makes a lot of sense to boycott the place rather than eat there.

Let’s start rewarding businesses that treat their employees right and actually care about their health. And let’s avoid those that put greed ahead of the health of the rest of us.

We have hours left to raise $12,000 — we’re counting on your support!

For those who care about justice, liberation and even the very survival of our species, we must remember our power to take action.

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