Guest column:

Paid sick leave law a good first step for Nevada workers

It’s that time of year when those of us with little Nevadans are transitioning into back-to-school mode after enjoying the final few summer days at the park or pool. As a mom, I am always balancing “fun time” versus the imminent “to-do” list in my head: buy more diapers, sign up for dance class and stock up on vitamin C in a (likely) futile attempt to avoid sickness enveloping our entire household once the kids go back to school.

Luckily, there’s one concern that has been left off my to-do list this year: worrying about making a choice between a day’s pay and the health of me or my family. I know I’m not the only parent who has had to make that impossible choice before.

Thanks to Gov. Steve Sisolak and the Legislature, Senate Bill 312 will make it mandatory for businesses with 50 or more employees to pay workers up to five days of paid time off per year to care for themselves or their loved ones. It goes into effect Jan. 1.

This law’s passage couldn’t have come soon enough for many Nevadans. In fact, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, before SB312, more than 522,000 workers in Nevada did not have paid sick time. Additionally, Nevadans working in food prep/serving occupations and personal care/service were disproportionately affected.

So even if you happen to be a Nevadan fortunate enough to already have paid sick leave, you should care deeply about this issue too.

While successfully passing this crucial legislation is a first for Nevada, this is an issue long advocated for by a diverse coalition over multiple legislative sessions. That coalition included countless parents like NARAL member Jocelyn from Carson City. A single mom of two girls, Jocelyn faced the scenario most parents dread: both kids are sick and you don’t have any paid time off to care for them. She was faced with a heartbreaking scenario of asking her older sick child to take care of her sick younger sister. This is a reality no mother should have to face. And now she won’t have to.

While this new law is significant for many Nevadans like Jocelyn, there are still steps we can take to ensure that no Nevadan has to choose between the health of their family or putting food on the table. The first step is making sure as many working Nevadans as possible have access to paid sick leave. Even with this new law, 192,000 working Nevadans still don’t have the chance to earn paid sick time. It’s time to change that.

And let’s not forget that paid sick time is only one piece of the puzzle for Nevadans struggling to find the balance between caring for their families and working a job to make ends meet. Paid family leave (for both parents) is essential for healthy, functioning communities. When parents are forced to choose a paycheck over their loved ones, the whole family suffers.

What’s more, paid family leave is a fundamental component of reproductive freedom, and every single Nevadan deserves the dignity and financial stability that it offers. Without it, mothers don’t have the time needed to heal from childbirth, and families don’t have time to bond with their new babies; families may face greater challenges in creating stable and nurturing homes for their children; and working people sometimes must risk their livelihoods to care for sick or injured family members.

The truth is, too many Nevadans are caught between their work and family responsibilities. There is a reason why business and community leaders came together to support paid sick time: It’s good for families and it’s good for business to treat your workers well.

And yet, according to our friends at the National Partnership for Women and Families, the fact remains: In Nevada, even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 63% of working people. It is also no surprise that our battle born, feminist-strong state has the first female majority state Legislature in the country and a majority of families where women are the primary earners.

In Nevada, 81% of black mothers, 55% of Latina mothers and 53% of white mothers are key family breadwinners.

Nevadans are moving forward, and our leaders in Carson City are helping to make real improvements that benefit working families. These gains are significant but are not the end of the story. We can and must do more to give all Nevadans the opportunity to work and care for their families. Paid sick time for some is a great start.

Now, let’s do more. Nevadans can’t wait.

Caroline Mello Roberson is the Nevada state director of NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to advance reproductive freedom.