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Essential workers in California calling for paid COVID leave as cases surge

Only one-third of low wage workers get paid sick leave. The state paid for COVID sick leave last year, but that benefit ended in September 2021.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A coalition of essential workers, worker advocates, and labor unions are calling for the California Legislature to provide two weeks of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick days to workers.

The 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave that was previously offered, expired in September 2021, and now, many workers are trying to get it back.

Kindergarten teacher E. Toby Boyd said, like most educators, he receives a finite number of sick days per school year, and when those days are gone, they are gone.

“We must stop placing our educators, who have been exposed, in a position of going without pay or potentially threatening the health and safety of our colleagues, students and community,” said Boyd, who is the California Teachers Association President.

About a dozen workers and advocates joined a mid-morning Zoom call to air their concerns about how they feel COVID paid leave is long overdue.

Rheannon Ramos is a Stater Bros. worker in San Bernardino, who says workers have been forced to choose between bills being paid and the state of public health.

Tia Orr, the SEIU California Interim Executive Director says paid sick leave is as basic and as critical as getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.

A Jack in the Box employee in Castro Valley and member of “Fight for $15” Ingrid Vilorio said, through a translator that her restaurant did not provide workers with masks or sanitizer.

Vilorio says she got sick with COVID and passed it to her special needs son. She says she tried to stay home longer to recover, but she needed a paycheck.

“Although my body was not feeling well, I went back to work,” said Vilorio. “We are the so-called 'frontline workers,’ but we don’t receive any benefits involved with the risks involved with our work. We feed our communities, and we go to work in the pandemic, we hope our elected officials will take this step forward for us,”

Jeffrey Nuguid is a registered nurse in Fountain Valley, who is currently sick with COVID.

"Right now, while I'm off, I have to use PTO, also known as paid-time-off, and if I run out of this PTO, I will not be paid unless I go on medical leave,” said Nuguid.

The essential workers say the paid supplemental COVID-19 sick leave will ensure workers can take the time off they need to recover instead of showing up to work sick and further spreading the virus.

The paid COVID sick leave under Senate Bill 95 expired in 2021.

“This is our policy in the state of California that we should have paid sick leave for our workforce. We've already implemented the policy once, it needs to be implemented again immediately,” said Dave Cortese, California Senate Labor Chairman.

Art Pulaski, California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer says legislators need to work, “with light speed to get this done. We are calling for legislation to be done, sign and in effect by the end of January.”

There is currently not a law to address the paid COVID leave.

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, (D-Los Angeles) says the federal funding is no longer available like it was last year.

“We have an opportunity with the $46 billion surplus within the state budget for the governor, state, the senate and the assembly to be creative in terms of what does this look like if we are going to move it forward?” said Carrillo.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego County reports record COVID cases; officials urge precautions (January 2022)