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2 new bills would help workers get paid sick and family leave time

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — State leaders on Tuesday introduced two bills they said will protect North Carolina families, businesses and the public.

Parents and grandparents who were at a local park Tuesday said life is challenging enough, even with paid sick time and family medical leave. And, they said all North Carolinians should have these basic rights.

But, according to State Rep. Susan Fisher, of Asheville, nearly 1.6 million working North Carolinians (about 10 percent of the state’s population) have no paid sick time.

“That is 1.6 million people who are put in a situation of taking care of their children, their parents or to go without pay, maybe even lose their jobs, because they’ve had to make the choice of caring for a family member or child,” Fisher said.

Fisher (D-114) is a co-sponsor of the Healthy Families Healthy Workplaces/Paid Sick Days Act, which would enable all workers to start building up sick time from the first day on the job, building up one hour for every 30 hours worked.

Caylea Jenkins is with the Restaurant Opportunities Center in Asheville, a group that represents restaurant workers.

Jenkins said she and others in her industry have worked sick before, afraid of not being able to pay bills and losing their jobs.

“Meanwhile, you’re there,” Jenkins said. “You’ve touched countless surfaces, countless people’s plates, countless debit and credit cards. No matter the standards of health and safety, a sick person is a sick person.”

The other bill introduced Tuesday is the North Carolina Paid Family Leave Insurance Act.

For about $100 a year, or $2 a week, businesses will provide employees paid medical leave to care for a family member.

Lawmakers say 25 percent of new moms in North Carolina return to work just two weeks after giving birth, something one mom of two has a hard time imagining.

“Having a newborn, and little sleep, I mean, it’s so consuming of your life,” said Elizabeth Reckinger, of Arden. “I couldn’t imagine shortly after that having to return to work when your mind isn’t even fully wrapped around what’s going on.”

“We have friends who live in Europe,” said Patty Staggs, who was at the park with her granddaughter. “They have six months or even a year. It’s so valuable for the children at this age, especially.”

Ana Pardo, of the Workers Rights Project, said the next step is for the General Assembly to hold a hearing on the bills.

But, Pardo said the paid sick days bill has been introduced for the past seven sessions and has not received a hearing.

A lawmaker who is co-sponsoring one of the bills said, in nine states that have similar plans in place, the businesses actually save money, because employees return to work and that cuts down on the cost of hiring new people and having to train them.

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