I grew up in a small town in rural Georgia. Named after both of my grandfathers, I learned from an early age about the importance of hard work and serving others. Hilliard, my paternal grandfather, was a sergeant major in the United States Army. Drew, my maternal grandfather, was the colonel of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. But it was my mother, Robin, who showed me firsthand how to live these two values.
Since she was a little girl, my mom suffered from a debilitating sinus condition. She had several surgeries to try to ease the headaches. During my elementary years, she stayed at home to care for me and my little brother. When my parents divorced, my mom went back to work to support our family, managing a full-time job while her sons were in school, meeting us at home after school to care for us, and then returning to an overnight, part-time job to make ends meet. In the morning, her smiling face and tired eyes greeted me, and she would get us ready for school.
Several times a year, my mom would be forced to choose between going to work while ill or calling out sick, losing a day’s worth of wages. Nearly every instance, she went to work sick – coughing, sneezing, and eyes watering – just so she could buy groceries or pay a bill the following payday.
As I grew up, my mom left her two minimum wage jobs behind and started working one job in retail, but with longer shifts. She still worked while sick to keep our family’s finances afloat and ensured we had the resources to do well in school and participate in band, school clubs, and proms. Several years later, she would find a sinus specialist who would solve her medical problems. Because of her tireless efforts, she made my future possible.
When I began knocking on doors last year with MOVE Texas to support the paid sick leave petition, I told my neighbors this story of my mother’s struggle to balance her health, her finances, and her sons’ future. Time and time again, the San Antonian standing in that doorway listening would repeat back a similar narrative. Whether they were a working parent, a grandmother concerned about her grandchildren, or a student trying to work part time to keep their student debt down, they agreed that sick people should have time to recover without suffering financially.
San Antonio has seen tremendous progress over the last few years. Together, we have invested in the future of young people through Pre-K 4 SA, implemented a city budget equity lens to allocate funds to neighborhoods most in need, and expanded access to voting across Bexar County – just to name a few. Initiatives like these make a real difference in our community.
We still have so much more to do. Demands for multimodal clean public transportation, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, transparent government, and other progressive issues are on the horizon. But before we tackle these initiatives, we must first implement paid sick leave for all of San Antonio.
At its core, paid sick leave is a public health initiative. Designed to ensure wellness, paid sick leave prevents contagious illnesses like the flu from spreading through restaurants, retail outlets, and office spaces. No business (or nonprofit) wants their staff sneezing on their customers’ food or shaking hands with their clients while running a fever. Similar to other widely accepted laws that protect workers’ safety, guard against the spread of illness, and prevent workplace injuries, paid sick leave calls on businesses to safeguard the health of both their employees and customers – and justifiably, businesses should pay for it.
Our city is a microcosm of interconnected social struggles. Paid sick leave is not just workplace reform. It is also gender justice for single moms shouldering the responsibilities of child rearing on top of earning wages to support their families. It is racial and economic justice, inherently, because of who the working class is. It is a health justice issue because workers make profit with their bodies and their labor and they must be in decent health to perform. For all these reasons, the moral compass of our city points to implementing paid sick leave.
It can be easy watching this process, mired with technical and legal jargon, to forget the story behind paid sick leave. Working Texans for Paid Sick Time – San Antonio’s black, brown, and young workers organized by community groups like Texas Organizing Project, MOVE Texas, and labor unions – petitioned their government to fight for what is right for everyone. Neighbors signed a petition for their neighbors, supporting a common-sense public health policy that moves conditions for working people in this city in a safer, more just, and dignified direction.
Our neighbors and workers across the city understand paid sick leave is a moral issue. Nearly 144,000 voters signed a petition stating it’s the right thing to do for sick and hurting people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, racial, and gender identities. Business leaders have even said they support paid sick leave as good health policy in principle, just not the city government’s ability to mandate businesses and corporations to comply. On this pivotal issue, the business community is lost in the wilderness.
The Paid Sick Leave Commission met Friday for a marathon five-hour meeting, finalizing changes to the new proposed ordinance designed to safeguard it from legal challenges. When City Council decides on revisions to the paid sick leave ordinance later this fall, San Antonio will become the second city in a right-to-work, anti-labor state to implement a pro-worker, pro-health policy for its communities. For people like my mom, and millions of Texans, this victory will create better lives and a better city.