Saturday was International Women’s Day, and local activists celebrated with a signature-gathering campaign.
About a dozen people gathered outside Whole Foods in East Liberty Saturday morning, asking shoppers and passers-by to sign a petition in support of a Chicago Whole Foods worker who was fired after missing work to stay home and care for her special needs son when his school was closed during the polar vortex this winter.
Cheria Cash, a single mother who works at a McDonald’s restaurant on the North Side, joined the signature gathering effort. She said working mothers face many of the same obstacles, even when they work for different companies in different cities.
“After doing eight hours of work for someone else, you come home and work some more,” Cash said. “For her to lose her job over not having childcare when all the schools were shut down that day, it’s just really messed up.”
The Chicago Whole Foods store where Rhiannon Broschat-Sulguero previously worked has maintained that her termination was fair and justified. A spokesman told the Huffington Post that Broschat-Sulguero had reached her maximum allowed six unexcused absences in a six-month period, and that “the attendance policy is really designed to be fair for all team members.”
Cash said she has always worked while raising her 16-year-old son on her own, and that there should be some other option for single, working parents.
“If you have kids under age 5, you have to take them to daycare,” Cash said. “If daycare’s not open, you can’t go to work. If you don’t have family or friends that you trust to watch your kids, then you just can’t go to work.”
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation to create another option for working parents, at least in some situations.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act would create an insurance program for workers who need to take time off to care for sick children and parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows workers to take unpaid time off, but Gillibrand's legislation would provide some income during leave.
Three Pennsylvania congressional representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the House version of the bill, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz.
It is unclear whether the act would apply to someone like Broschat-Sulguero, as she has not shared information about the nature of her child's "special needs."
Activists said they gathered around 90 signatures on Saturday, including one from a current Whole Foods employee.