March 12, 2020

Harris on Coronavirus: “Paid Sick Leave Will Save Lives”

Click Here for Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) at a press conference to demand the United States Senate include paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave as components of any legislative package to address the outbreak of coronavirus. Harris called on the Senate to pass the plan currently being considered in the House of Representatives, which would provide workers with paid emergency leave including two weeks of paid sick days and up to three months of paid family and medical leave.

“Here’s the bottom line: paid sick leave will save lives, paid sick leave will keep communities safer. It’s just that basic,” Harris said. “Two thirds of low-income workers do not have paid sick leave. And when presented with the issue of whether they will stay at home while they're sick, or feed their babies, or keep a roof over their head, it is logical to believe that they will go to work so that they can keep taking care of their family.”

Harris continued, “So what the House is proposing is not only right in terms of what we need as public policy in the United States in terms of how we treat our workers, but this is a very smart way to address what is currently a very significant public health crisis in the United States of America.”

Full transcript is below:

HARRIS: Thank you. And I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for your longstanding leadership in the United States Senate on the issue of paid family leave, and so many other issues that affect our families.

Here's the bottom line: paid sick leave will save lives, paid sick leave will keep communities safer. It's just that basic. It has always been an issue of workers’ rights. It has always been an issue of what is the right public policy approach to supporting workers and understanding that every human being at one time or another will get sick and why should they have to suffer knowing that they either will be able to stay at home and tend to their illness, or put food on the table and feed their babies or pay the rent, but with the coronavirus, it has become even more stark as an issue which is literally, there are people in America, in fact two thirds of low income workers do not have paid sick leave. And when presented with the issue of whether they will stay at home while they're sick, or feed their babies, or keep a roof over their head, it is logical to believe that they will go to work so that they can keep taking care of their family.

So in the midst of this public health crisis, let us understand that one of the most significant and effective ways that we're going to slow down this virus is to make sure that when people are sick, they stay at home, that they self-quarantine.

So let's unpack the math on that. If you're sick, and we don't want it to spread through the community, we want people to stay at home. If you are a low income worker who does not have paid sick leave, if you're facing the choice of whether to feed your children or go to work, you're going to choose to feed your children and that means going to work and perhaps spreading the virus.

So what the House is proposing is not only right in terms of what we need as public policy in the United States in terms of how we treat our workers, but this is a very smart way to address what is currently a very significant public health crisis in the United States of America. So again, I applaud Senator Gillibrand.

I'd also just raise one more point. I serve on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is an oversight committee. And of course, part of our oversight is includes over OPM. There are 2.7 million federal workers. And we've been asking the administration, what they are going to do to ensure that those federal workers are receiving the kinds of protections they need, as they do their job of working on behalf of the American people often interacting everyday with the American public. We have yet to hear a clear plan among the people who work for the Department of Homeland Security. Again, we have oversight over that in the committee on homeland security. TSA agents. We already have a couple of TSA agents out of San Jose, California, who have tested positive. And we have asked, then Ken Cuccinelli and the administration, what is your plan to make sure that the TSA workers who come in contact with people every day, whether they're flying from Oakland to Los Angeles, or coming from a foreign country into the United States? And we've heard no clear plan for what they intend to do to keep those TSA workers safe in their workplace.

And then FEMA. So let's be clear in California, as in many places around the country, but in California, we're on the eve of the wildfire crisis. FEMA workers are very important to be able to address these natural disasters. What is this administration's plan to ensure that first responders including FEMA workers are protected in the invariable outcome of this season, which is going to be fires and wildfires? And the additional point there is what is this administration's plan, when during natural disasters, we often house people, in very small areas, and very dense areas.

And so again, these are issues that are raised only to point out that, sadly, the administration has been very slow to really think through the challenge before us and we want to encourage that that work will happen and passing the House bill will be a smart way to start.

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