Health and Safety

Momentum Builds Behind Paid Sick Leave Bill

Momentum Builds Behind Paid Sick Leave Bill

October 25, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco

Hundreds of thousands of workers in New York City too afraid to call in sick for fear of losing wages or even their jobs, might soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief in the coming year.

The New York City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee is expected to hold a hearing on Paid Sick Leave legislation on Thursday, November 1. If signed into law, Intro 97a would compel employers with more than five workers to pay their employees up to five days of sick leave, or provide flexible vacation days. Those employing less then five workers would not have to pay, but workers would still be allowed to take the week off without fear of being terminated.

“This bill will ensure that working people in our city do not have to go to work sick out of fear of losing pay or even their jobs,” said SEIU 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa. “It will also safeguard public health by reducing the spread of illness. Now is the time for the City Council to vote on this important legislation.”

New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer originally introduced the legislation three years ago, but no action was taken at that time. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also opposed the Paid Sick Leave bill arguing that it would hurt businesses in a weakened economy.

In January, Councilmember Brewer introduced 10 new amendments to the Paid Sick Leave bill aimed at making it more palatable to small businesses and non-profits. NYC Councilmember Daniel Garodnick also added changes.

The current version of the Paid Sick Leave legislation has 37 sponsors in the City Council, including Civil Service and Labor Committee Chairperson Chair James Sanders, Jr. New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also supports the measure. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. announced his support of the Paid Sick Leave bill on October 24.

“We commend Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. for joining with other concerned elected officials, community groups, business leaders and others to support this important piece of legislation, which has the potential to improve the lives of over a million hard-working New Yorkers,” said NYC Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez. “People shouldn’t have to choose between a job and their health, or the health of a family member, and we hope this bill comes up for a vote soon.”

Not all workers are included in the the latest incarnation of the legislation, however. Seasonal workers, for example, are excluded, while another key concession is aimed at restaurants workers and others in the service industry who elect to swap shifts with co-workers rather than taking a paid sick day. Under that compromise employees would not have to lose a paid shift when sick, while employers would not have to pay an employee for a shift they do not work.

Councilmember Garodnick said that the city needs to “work toward policies that protect workers, and take small business concerns into consideration.”

Major opposition to Intro 97a from powerful groups like The Partnership for the City of New York and the 5 Boro Chamber Alliance still remains – but there are enough votes in the New York City Council to override a veto from the mayor should the bill make it to Michael Bloomberg’s desk.

“When my husband had emergency surgery this year, thank God I was able to take a paid sick day to be with him,” said Angela Espianal, a 32BJ member who works as an apartment building cleaner. “But many of my friends and other people in the city don’t have paid sick days. They have to worry about losing their jobs when they or their children get sick.”

Like Figueroa, Councilmember Brewer also sees the Paid Sick Leave bill as a public health issue.

“Making sure that people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick is critical to keeping our city healthy,” Councilmember Brewer said. “The health of all New Yorkers is at risk when workers with contagious illnesses ride the subway, prepare and serve food, and take care of children and seniors. Lack of paid sick time can also contribute to the worsening of chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes – which have reached epidemic levels in some of our neighborhoods – as New Yorkers without time off may be unable to seek early intervention for themselves and their children when complications arise.”

Working Families organizer Chanelle Mickell has a sister who works with autistic children, but even she is currently not afforded  paid sick leave.

“My sister works as a caregiver for autistic children, and she doesn’t get paid sick days,” Mickell said. “No one would want her coming to work sick and bringing her germs around to the kids, but when she misses work, she loses the pay she needs to make ends meet. It breaks my heart.”

If and when Intro 97a becomes law, it will still be months before it can be fully implemented. But many are glad that after more than three years, it is finally moving closer to reality.

“As a Latina and a small business owner in an immigrant neighborhood, I see every day the need for paid sick days,” said Amalia Cisneros, member of Make the Road New York and Small Business United. “We need paid sick days now.”

October 25, 2012

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