US workers demand effective paid sick leave policies to deal with Coronavirus pandemic

As the Coronavirus pandemic is raging in the US, only 15% of the fast food workers have paid leaves left, leaving over 32 million workers in a difficult situation

March 15, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Paid sick leave
Image credit: Fight for $15

Workers at the multinational restaurant chain, McDonald’s, criticized the company’s limited paid sick leaves policy, in the midst of the Coronavirus disease outbreak in the US. McDonald’s so far has only offered extra paid sick leaves to workers either quarantined or in locations with higher incidence of infections.

This policy covers less than 5% of the stores, according to the Fight for $15 campaign that is currently leading a struggle of fast food workers for paid leaves in the US. McDonald’s workers in the state of Florida have been on strike, by refusing to turn up for work since March 12.

They have demanded an extension of their paid leaves to include the quarantine period or any kind of outbreak-related work disruptions for everyone who “wears the uniform”. The demands have included that the leaves be extended if a worker or anyone in their household were to show signs of an infection.

The demands also include wages for hours missed due to any kind of closures that might be required during the outbreak. Workers have also demanded that the company come up with a comprehensive prevention policy, and train the managers and workers alike to limit the possibility of infections among workers.


In California, even as gig economy corporations such as Uber and Lyft have agreed to compensate their workers for lost wages due to quarantine or sickness, workers have demanded that more to be done to mitigate risks. Workers have recently petitioned California’s government to step in to protect them and their livelihoods during the epidemic.

Multiple unions have identified fast food workers and gig economy workers to be among the most risk-prone groups in the US, as they are more likely to be in contact with the general public. Even though the US has reported more than 2,800 infections and 59 deaths, from COVID-19, restaurant chains have been reluctant to support their workers.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, hourly-wage workers in the fast food sector and the gig economy have been denied sick leaves that are legally mandated to them. According to the federal Labour Statistics Bureau, over 69% of hourly-wage or low-income workers in the US do not receive any paid sick leaves.

As the Coronavirus pandemic is raging in the US, only 15% of the fast food workers have paid leaves left, leaving over 32 million workers without any. The gravity of the matter can be seen from the fact that president Donald Trump, who showered over a trillion dollars on the financial system earlier this week, had to admit that they are working on compensation for wages lost for hourly-wage workers during the outbreak.

Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also come out in support of the struggling workers. In a recent tweet, Sanders admonished Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, for asking workers to “share” their paid leaves during the outbreak.

Most hourly-wage workers in the US live from paycheck to paycheck. A disruption can set them back on their rent, basic utilities and even healthcare for their family. The outbreak has brought to the fore the simmering issues affecting millions of US citizens to the fore. Paid sick leaves for hourly-wage workers is set to be a nationally relevant issue even after the threat of the pandemic is contained.