The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 21, 2014

Local group pushes for restaurant sick leave

Local group pushes for restaurant sick leave

MANKATO — Karen Knox, Linda Good and others in a local book club know they're not going to change the world with their bit of activism.

But their goal is to make local people and elected officials aware of a problem that is gaining attention around the country: restaurant workers sickening others with food-borne illnesses because most restaurants don't give their employees paid sick time.

"Two-thirds of restaurant workers reported preparing and serving our food while being sick," Good said.

The Minnesota Department of Health has concluded that sick workers were the likely or suspected cause of nearly three-fourths of all norovirus outbreaks. Norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness.

The local group is not blaming the workers.

"Given the low wages restaurant workers earn, it's not surprising they go to work when they're sick," Knox said.

The women are part of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship book club that recently read "Behind the Kitchen Door" by Saru Jayaraman. The book looks at a number of problems in the restaurant industry, including the fact 90 percent of restaurant workers do not have access to sick leave.

Members of the group decided to do their part to bring the issue to light locally. "I think the public would be interested in this if they realize how often people are coming to work sick because they can't afford to lose a day's wages," said Knox, a retired English teacher.

Good, a retired Minnesota State professor, said the group decided to focus on a different restaurant chain each week for several weeks. When going out to eat, they simply talk to wait staff and ask them if they get sick leave — almost none do — and they will ask to talk to the manager to tell them of their concern. They also leave cards that say they disagree with restaurants not giving sick leave.

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