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Virginia’s home healthcare workers celebrate new paid sick leave

Virginia’s home healthcare workers celebrate new paid sick leave
Posted at 6:40 PM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 18:40:50-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thomasine Wilson knows sacrifice firsthand. She has spent the last two decades working as a home healthcare employee while caring for some of the most vulnerable in our population.

“Until now, we’ve had no option but to keep going, keep working and keep pushing even when we were sick, injured or totally exhausted,” Wilson said.

Wilson stood behind Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday afternoon as he ceremoniously signed House bill 2137.

On July 1, home healthcare workers serving Medicaid patients will be eligible for 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. Approximately 30,000 employees would be impacted, according to the Governor’s office. Women and women of color typically fill these positions.

“Nobody in Virginia should have to choose between their health and a paycheck,” said the bill's sponsor Del. Elizabeth Guzman.

The original House bill would have included more essential workers like grocery store employees, childcare providers and farmworkers. A last-minute change by Senate Democrats did not want to impose a mandate on private businesses.

CBS 6’s Brendan King asked Northam if he was disappointed more jobs weren’t included in the legislation.

“Things happen in small steps here in Richmond sometime,” Northam replied. “While this is a small step, I really think this is a large step. I think it will set the precedent for the right thing to do is.”

Northam said he does support paid sick leave for both essential and non-essential workers. Approximately 1.2 million Virginians are considered essential employees.

“Today, Virginia celebrated a historic milestone: the first time the Commonwealth has ever guaranteed paid sick days to workers by statute,” said Kim Bobo, Executive Director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, a member of the Virginians for Paid Sick Days coalition. “We applaud Gov. Northam, Del. Guzman, and legislative leaders for taking action to provide paid sick days to 30,000 home health care workers in Virginia. We look forward to working together next session to expand paid sick days to all 1.2 million Virginia workers who currently lack them.”

Wilson, a grandmother of five, shared with me how this bill will impact her life after working as a home healthcare worker for more than 20 years.

“It means hallelujah! I finally have a chance to take care of me, have some time off and know you’d be paid while you’re off. Because if you take off 5 days that’s a whole paycheck,” she responded.

Del. Guzman introduced the bill after personal experience.

"When I first came to this country with $300 in my pocket and a little girl, I had to make difficult decisions to leave my child home alone when she was sick because I didn’t have paid sick days," Guzman said. "When workers are forced to go work with an illness, it not only harms the worker, but it also creates an unsafe environment for everybody around them."