Open letter to Doug Ford in 3 acts

😷 We need paid sick leave

Welcome to At The End Of The Day. I’m Hannah Sung and I write this newsletter to process the firehose of daily news and to consider what matters most — caring, for ourselves, our friends and families, our communities and the greater good. 

With a big hi 👋 to all my readers in faraway places, this letter is keeping it close to home this week. Feel free to substitute the premier of Ontario’s name below with your local equivalent because the issues are universal.

Photo: Dimitri Karastelev, Unsplash


ACT I: What I’m Saying

Dear Premier of Ontario Doug Ford, 

I am a parent in Toronto. This week, I dropped my children off at school for the first time since mid-December. 

Walking away from the school was difficult.  I lingered as they headed inside. I waited for some sort of sign, maybe a wave and smile. Would that make me feel better?

If I could somehow tell, through the snowsuits, toques and masks, that they were thrilled to be back in their school environment, would I feel less anxious about their safety?

I wonder if you know how this feels. Have you sent your young, cherished children back to their classrooms during a pandemic?

Late at night, lying awake, when we made the decision to send the children back to in-person learning, I made plans with my husband for what we would do if we all got COVID-19. I told him about the plastic shopping bag full of over-the-counter medication I stashed during the first wave. I told him we could devise ways to ensure we don’t roll over in our sleep, so we could avoid further damaging our lungs by lying on our backs, as I’d read about online. (Would this help? I don’t know, but I needed some semblance of a plan.)

We agreed to remind ourselves that if we get sick, all we need to accomplish is to get through each day. I told him I’m afraid of being a long-hauler. I figure I can handle pretty much anything except mental psychosis.1 2

This is how we prepared for our first day back to school. 

I sent my kids to school because they need this. They haven't seen their peers since mid-December. But the risk is impossible for me to calculate.

We are a year into this pandemic. And while the Minister of Education talks a lot, nothing meaningful has changed for children and teachers in the classroom. 

ONE YEAR INTO THIS PANDEMIC…

🧪 Why don’t we have rapid tests in all schools? Ontario is in possession of millions of tests that, if used as a first line of defense, could trigger a more accurate test as a next line of defense.3 You’ve said you will roll them out in schools but there’s no timeline. Meanwhile, these tests collect dust.

📚 Where are smaller classrooms? Ontarians were demanding this by the hundreds of thousands in August. It is now February.4

Classes are still ADDING students, making them bigger. This is due to a funding formula that only your government can change.

Most importantly, we need easy, accessible, guaranteed paid sick leave for workers in Ontario.

The only way our schools can be safe is for transmissions to remain low in the community. And yet, people go to work sick because they have no other option. 

And what about the federal Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, the one you tout as being “paid sick leave?” (It’s not).

Wading through forms to access retroactive CRSB is tough if someone struggles with literacy, internet access, or precarious work. Plus, a retroactive benefit does not a) help put food on the table today, nor b) protect job security.

Providing sick leave to Ontarians would not be "double-dipping” with "taxpayer's money," as you’ve said, Premier Ford. It is one of the only tools you have to protect low-wage workers and by extension, all of us, during a deadly pandemic.

If you had any sense of responsibility in your concept of leadership, your government would give low-wage workers 10 paid sick days.

Your government could do this. 

I’m thinking about my kids today and how it’s my job to keep them as safe as possible. That’s why I’m writing to you. If one of my children gets the virus, our whole family will get it, there’s no question.

Multiply that by all the households in this province. I believe individuals want to do the right thing and stay at home when they’re sick. Let them do so by legislating paid sick leave now.

It's what voters and taxpayers want. I prefer to call us humans and people but you can use whatever language you want to motivate your actions.

Thank you for reading.

Hannah Sung

Toronto

*** This is an adapted version of an email I sent to the Ontario government as part of the Light It Up campaign for Paid Sick Leave. 5


ACT II: What Workers Are Saying

I sent the above email on Tuesday morning. That afternoon, Doug Ford’s conservatives said no to the Stay Home If You’re Sick Act, Bill 239, which was brought forward as a private member’s bill by an NDP MPP.

Now, I would rather do almost anything else than try to understand unanimous consent at Queen’s Park. Bureaucracy gives me hives. But this issue isn’t purely political.

Here’s a list of people who support paid sick leave:

  • Small business owners 6

  • Nurses 7

  • Doctors 8

  • All 34 public health units in Ontario and medical officers of health 9

  • Labour unions 10

  • Parents 11

  • Warehouse workers12

  • Teachers 13

The list could go on and on.

Even other conservative leaders, including mayors Patrick Brown (Brampton) and John Tory (Toronto), have called for paid sick leave.

To understand the issue better, I made a couple of calls this week. First, I spoke with Carolina Jimenez of the Decent Health and Work Network14, who is also a part-time registered nurse at a women’s clinic.

The only way to get paid sick days is for the provincial government to legislate them through employment standards. That’s the only way, to make sure they’re made into law. Employment standards are the minimum standards that all employers have to abide by.

I was very surprised to learn that Carolina herself doesn’t have paid sick leave as a part-time registered nurse in a private clinic. The very people who care for us when we’re sick aren’t protected if they get sick themselves.

Carolina’s main concern is for her patients. They can’t maintain good health if they can’t stay home when they’re sick.

It’s like when I give someone a prescription for a medication they can’t fill because the price is too high and they don’t have insurance. Similarly, my advice for my patients, to stay at home if they’re sick, isn’t something they can access if they can’t afford to.

If you believe Ford’s bluster on double-dipping taxpayer money, don’t. If you believe that federal CSRB is the same as paid sick leave, it isn’t. Everyone has said this, including the federal government itself, who have let premiers know that the CRSB is a stop-gap measure meant to complement provincially legislated paid sick leave.15

We are in a hazardous situation that has a very straight-forward fix that everybody is advocating for. There is now near-universal acceptance for a paid sick days policy including the 34 public health units in Ontario.

Meanwhile, as we’ve known since last year, as time keeps ticking, we are keeping vulnerable people in harm’s way rather than protecting them with the support they need.

Research shows 58% of Canadians don’t have paid sick days. That number jumps to over 75% if you’re a low-income worker and a woman. Those intersections make it very clear that this is a structural problem.


After speaking with Carolina, I called up Kyle Hoskin, who lives in Welland, Ontario in the Niagara region. He was laid off from his job as a curb-side waste collector and now works as an industrial cleaner, doing high-pressure water blasting and vacuum truck service. He lives with his partner who works at McDonald’s, as she has for ten years.

He has watched close friends lose family members to COVID and has a friend struggling with long-haul symptoms that have landed the individual back in hospital.

What would happen if he got sick with COVID and had to stay home?

I would go bankrupt. I would lose my house. I’d lose everything, to be honest. If I had four days off in a pay period, I’d be in an interesting situation to pay my bills. Four days and I would be in trouble.

Kyle told me that people try to hide being sick in order to work, because they have no options. While he hasn’t seen that with his own colleagues (“thankfully”), his partner sees it in her cramped McDonald’s workplace.

What does your partner do when she sees people at work who are clearly sick?

Avoid those people to the best of her ability, but you’re in a fast food environment in a confined space. There’s no way to avoid a co-worker long-term. You’re bumping into them, touching everything they touch.

On Doug Ford saying no to paid sick days:

I just see it as a weak leadership from the premier. I really expected better of him. I expected him to take a firm stance and lead but he’s not. He’s deflecting and kicking it around [to the federal level]. 

I have friends who are in the conservative riding associations and they support sick days. It would be good for his own voter base but I don’t think he recognizes that. He campaigned on being ‘for the people’ but I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing ‘for some of the people,’ or ‘for the rich people.’ I think it’s time he sees some damage in the next election because I don’t know what it’s going to take. All the data’s there. Traditional conservative supporters are supporting paid sick leave. I just don’t get it.

As for me, I’ll be honest. I don’t enjoy writing an open letter. Being loud about my politics isn’t in my comfort zone. But like I said, I’m incredibly irritated by the fact that this human rights issue is being treated as a political frill. Sending my kids to school this week is giving me a small peek into a much larger world of precarious living standards and stress and it’s giving me Hulk rage. 

While the paid sick leave bill at Queen’s Park was shot down this week, it will get a second reading in March and a third reading after that, with a committee involving stakeholders in between (did I mention I get hives?).

But when it comes to this policy failure, Carolina, who has been working on this issue for so long, frames disappointment through her advocacy lens.

Private member’s bills rarely get passed. If we measure our wins by what the government does or doesn’t do, we’re always going to lose. We have to measure the wins by the discourse. The change and widespread support for paid sick days, that in and of itself is a win. It’s about our understanding of how to be a better community together and what people are going through, in the workplace, to make lives easier for the rest of us. It’s about how we can all advocate together -- that is also a win.

ACT III: What you can say

Now is the time to write your own message to let your local representative in government, wherever you live, know what you want.

If you want paid sick days to be the standard minimum, one that is enshrined in law and that big profit-driven corporations aren’t allowed to skirt, here’s a template:

Dear [local representative],

I am a human being in a pandemic. As the virus has shown, it will attack any available and vulnerable individual.

By ordering people to stay home, but not providing paid sick days by law, you are putting low-wage precarious workers in an impossible and dangerous situation. You must make paid sick days law so that employers cannot abdicate their duty toward keeping their workplace safe.

Paid sick leave saves lives. It keeps schools open. It would decrease workplace outbreaks. It would keep our seniors in long-term care from dying cruel deaths without dignity. 

This is your time. Be a politician who gets things right and we will remember your actions come the next election.

Signed,

A human being

✨✨✨ At The End Of The Day is edited by Ishani Nath ✨✨✨

FURTHER READING:

The employer with Toronto’s largest COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t have paid sick days. What does new data tell us about which workplaces are hardest hit? The Toronto Star

One person dead after fire at Toronto homeless encampment, CTV News.

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Paid Sick Days for all Ontarians, Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario