Opinion

Paid sick leave protects from the unexpected muppet attack

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It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I was visiting a local baby store.

Minding my own business, I strolled down the aisle when out of nowhere I was attacked, set upon by a foam Elmo couch for kids.

That little red devil found its way under foot, and I went arse over teakettle, right there in the middle of the store.

There was a loud pop. A cold sweat bubbled up from deep under my skin. I was sick to my stomach. And oh howdy, did my leg hurt.

It hurt so much that I couldn’t be bothered with embarrassment.

After sitting on the floor forever – or maybe just a few minutes – I hobbled my way out to my car and did what anyone else in my predicament would do.

I called my wife.

The first thing I said: “I think I’ve broken my leg.”

The second thing: “Do we have insurance?”

At the time, I was working as the editorial page editor at the Lewiston Sun Journal, but we had our health insurance through my wife’s work. She was in the process of changing jobs and I was unsure of our status.

She assured me that yes, we had insurance – thank goodness. I made my way to the hospital, where it was quickly determined that yes, indeedy, my ballooning lower leg was in fact broken. And, lucky me, not just in one place.

Stupid Elmo couch. (To be fair, the couch did nothing illicit. I’m just clumsy.)

I received topnotch care at the emergency room and they promptly scheduled an appointment for me with an orthopedic surgeon for Monday.

Monday morning, I called in sick to the Sun Journal and my wife took me to the doctor’s office. Turns out, if you break your leg bad enough, they’ll perform surgery on you no matter what you had for breakfast that day.

The orthopedic surgeon was intrigued by my injury, which he compared to one sustained by professional football player Terrell Owens earlier that year. He suggested I come up with a better story than a foam couch attack. As a side note, Owens played in the Super Bowl that year. I barely could manage stairs.

I was thinking about my mishap on Monday as I was listening to testimony in favor of a bill that would allow most workers to earn up to five days a year of paid sick leave.

I was lucky. (Not because I broke my leg. That part stunk.) At the time, I had a good job at a strong family-owned business that allowed its workers to earn paid sick leave – and to use it, even though my absence created a hardship for others on the staff.

I was also lucky because I could return to work quickly, in just a few days, because my job mostly required me to sit on my butt, talk on the phone and write. The hardest part was managing the trip to the restroom on crutches.

The testimony on Monday made clear how often bad luck – an injury or sickness – can derail working people, particularly those who are paid by the hour.

The flu, a sick kid or a broken leg could put them at risk of a total fiscal meltdown.

A number of businesses showed up in Augusta to testify against the bill. And I understand why. Adding a benefit will, at some level, drive up costs. It will make it harder for them to manage schedules. They’re concerned about abuse.

For too long, the US economy has depended on cheap labor and cheap energy. We’ve all underpaid for both. Like the eight-hour workday and child labor costs, businesses will need to absorb some new costs or pass them along, but in the long run communities will be stronger when workers are treated better and are allowed to take care of themselves when they’re sick.

For the record, Elmo and I have reconciled.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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