March 6, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brookllyn, NY – When the new Paid Sick Leave law goes into effect on April 1, there will be about a half-million more working men and women no longer afraid to miss a day of work who will be smiling – but they won’t be the only ones. Some forward-thinking business owners will be grinning right along with them.
Esmeralda Valencia opened her restaurant at 1497 Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick back in 2004. Today, she has eight employees. Most of them have been with her for years. At least two have been with Valeneia from the start. And the reason for that impressively low turnover rate is largely due to the successful restauranteur’s longstanding, pro-labor policies.
“Some [other business owners] say, ‘Oh, I can’t [provide sick days] because it will hurt my business,’” Valencia recently told LaborPress. “But I tell them I’ve been here for 10 years – and this is how we’ve grown.”
According to the savvy business owner who worked in retail for many years after emigrating to Brooklyn from Ecuador – offering hardworking employees paid sick leave just makes sound business sense.
“If I force my workers to work when they are sick, I will have lots more turnover,” Valencia says. “Then, I’m wasting time I don’t have finding new employees and training them. My longtime employees know how everything runs. They’re very efficient because I’ve been offering these benefits.”
Maria Launaze owns and operates a thriving hardware store not far from Esmeralda’s Restaurant, at 258 Wyckoff Avenue. In business for the last four years, Launaze – who also emigrated from Ecuador and worked both as a domestic and in the construction industry – knows all about the challenges employees face.
“I’m supportive of the Paid Sick Leave Act because I was a worker for so long,” Launaze said. “And I know what it was like not to have that as a benefit. I know what it’s like to suffer without it.”
Building contractors who have come to expect a certain level of expert service constitute more than half of the hardware store owner’s customers. Like Valencia, maintaining a sharp and efficient workforce isn’t an option for Launaze – it’s a necessity.
“It’s worth giving employees a little time off when they need it so they have better quality of work, and we don’t lose those repeat customers,” the hardware store owner says.
That fundamental principal is demonstrated even more viscerally at Esmeralda’s Restaurant.
“We can guarantee that when you come here, someone’s not going to be sick preparing your food,” the restauranteur says. “That makes for repeat customers.”
While the new measure still has problems, the expanded Paid Sick Leave law that Mayor Bill de Blasio and progressive supporters in the New York City Council backed this winter, builds significantly on the watered down version that former Speaker Christine Quinn advocated last year.
Now, employees working at businesses with as little as five workers will be entitled to at least 5 paid sick days each year. The definition of family has also been broadened so that employees can more easily take off a day of work to care for sick loved ones. And workers in manufacturing will also be eligible for time off.
When signing the expanded Paid Sick Leave measure into law in February, Mayor de Blasio said “From waitresses and dish washers to store clerks and car wash workers, New Yorkers across the five boroughs will finally have legal protection to a basic right that so many of us take for granted each day – and employers will benefit from a stronger and healthier workforce.”
The importance of promoting a healthy workforce is something Valencia realized long ago.
“I knew that your were going to get better workers if you treated them well,” the restauranteur says.” “[In the beginning], I couldn’t actually run a business on my own – so, I needed employees that were dedicated.”