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Employees, union and community leaders call for paid sick leave

"Profit over people will not get us through this."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While many companies have started having their employees work remotely to stem the spread of COVID-19, some workers do not have that option, and for those without paid sick leave, many are worried about having to eventually choose between staying home or collecting a paycheck to provide for their families.

"Profit over people will not get us through this. Employees in the facility often work within two feet of each other," Stacey Johnson, an employee at GE Appliance Park, said.

According to Johnson, GE, which is owned by Haier, does not have a sick leave policy. With more than 3,800 employees working at Appliance Park in Louisville, she said it is only a matter of time before someone has to make that tough decision.

"What is the point of keeping kids home from school if their parents, who are most vulnerable, are required to go out into the workforce because of fear of losing their job?" she said.

Johnson joined union leaders and two state lawmakers Monday afternoon calling on the state and federal government to pass legislation that would guarantee paid sick leave to employers.

Credit: WHAS-TV

"Without access to paid sick leave, Kentuckians are faced with incredibly difficult decisions to make," Jessica Klein, a policy associate with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said. "They have to choose between going to work sick, sending their children to daycare sick or losing valuable income to pay for basic necessities like food, medical bills or heat."

The U.S. House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which would grant two weeks of paid sick leave at 100 percent of the employee's salary, up to a daily cap of $511, while also providing up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave at 67 percent of the person's salary with a daily cap of $200. That legislation heads to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Kentucky, and the Senate.

Kentucky lawmakers are also working on similar bills, including House Bill 123, sponsored by Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D.-District 38, and Senate Bill 282, sponsored by Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D.-District 19. The legislation would provide one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked for an employee to take care of themselves or a family member, and also includes a provision preventing a company from retaliating against an employee for using paid sick leave.

"We can't ask people to stay at home if it means losing their home. And that's why we have to have bills like paid sick leave," McGarvey said. "This is important because of the coronavirus. It's important anytime for public health."

In a letter to employees, GE Vice President of Manufacturing Bill Good wrote in part: "We'll work with the employees affected to utilize current pay and sick leave benefits as well as a lack of work and Income Extension aid benefits."

"The safety and well-being of our employees is the number one priority for GE Appliances. GE Appliances has full cross-functional teams working on scenario planning so that we are prepared for a range of situations that may be triggered by the impact of COVID-19. A committee focused on COVID-19 meets daily to discuss the best actions to protect the health of all of us while we continue servicing, installing, shipping and manufacturing appliances," GE Senior Director of Corporate Communications Julie Wood wrote to WHAS11 in an email.

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