Evelyn Martinez is a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.

At a time when teachers are struggling to find ways to continue living in the most unaffordable city in the country, they are expected to pay for their own substitute teacher after they use up their sick days.

A much-loved second-grade teacher from Glenn Park Elementary in the San Francisco Unified School District has had to go out on an extended sick leave because of a cancer diagnosis. Parents from the community have come together to raise funds to make up for the reduction in her pay. This is all due to an antiquated education code, which stipulates that after sick days are used up, the cost of her sub must be deducted from her pay check.

In addition to the hardship of dealing with catastrophic illnesses, teachers must try to survive on a heavily reduced salary. Teachers in the San Francisco Unified School District and Oakland Unified get 10 sick days per year, and then another 100 days of extended medical leave time. But after a teacher uses the 10 sick days and is on the 100-day extended leave, the district bills them for the cost of a substitute. This is in keeping with a California Education Code created by the legislature and the governor in the early 1970s.

Only 22 of 148 districts nationally, including San Francisco, Oakland and New York City, have policies in which the cost of a substitute is deducted from a sick teacher’s pay. School districts and individual unions are left to work out specific leave agreements such as participating in a sick-leave “bank” in order to qualify for more sick days. Yet, only teachers who have donated at least a day can benefit from it. Teachers must also voluntarily purchase their own state disability insurance because they do not contribute to the state disability insurance fund.

Many low-wage workers in this country do not belong to a union and do not have benefits such as sick days, paid sick leave, paid vacation days, and other such benefits. Many workers have no health care benefits at all.

This situation highlights the need for a health care system that is free and available to everyone. Everyone gets sick and will have to visit a doctor sometime in their lives. It is a crime that in the richest country in the world, so many have to suffer and go without medical attention and health care that is accessible and affordable. We should have a health care system that cares for all people, employed or not. When a person becomes ill, there should be safety nets in place to help keep people from losing their homes or going hungry because they cannot pay the bills. Free health care for all should be a right, not a privilege.