Health and Safety

Quinn Under Fire As Paid Sick Days Pressure Mounts

March 23, 2013
Joe Maniscalco

(New York, NY) Numerous municipalities from coast to coast have already figured out that affording hardworking employees paid sick days is smart – but here in the Big Apple where City Council Speaker and mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn has blocked similar legislation for the past three years, it is still an issue that needs to be "looked at." (Read More)

 

 

"It's easy to throw around criticism and rhetoric," Quinn told a group of reporters at a City Council hearing on paid sick days legislation held Friday. "It is much harder to draft legislation that helps people without causing unnecessary, undue harm. That is the point of this hearing process – to drill down on complicated issues."

City legislators is San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Portland, as well as their statewide counterparts in Vermont, Massachusetts and Washington State have all either thrown their support behind paid sick days bills, or well on their way to doing so. New York's paid sick days bill – already a water-down version of its original form – actually enjoys a veto-proof super-majority in the City Council.

Advocates of the paid sick days bill expressed their outrage at Quinns' continued intransigence to even allow the measure to be put up for a democratic up or down vote. 

"As caregivers, we know first-hand how important it is for people to stay home when they're sick instead of infecting others," said George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "When a worker can take a sick day without fear of losing pay or being fired, it's good for their families, their co-workers, their employer and our city overall."

In the last three years New York City's paid sick days bill has languished in legislative limbo, Quinn has insisted that such a measure would somehow hurt an already ailing local economy. 

Yet, outside of big business interests which contribute heavily to Quinn's mayoral campaign, the number of informed dissenting voices continues to grow.

In the 1,000-plus days since the New York City's paid sick days legislation was introduced, the New York City Paid Sick Days Coalition has seen its ranks swell to over 600 groups and individuals, while a new poll that should Quinn pause citing a majority of Democratic voters less likely to support her because of her stance on paid sick days, was just released last Wednesday. 

"Paid Sick Days are an investment in my employees," said Leni Juca, owner of Oxium Copy and Print Shop in Jackson Heights, Queens. "With paid sick days, my employees know the business takes care of them so they take care of the business. They provide the best services and skill to the customers. Without paid sick days, the quality of their work suffers and they endanger other employees and my customers. Paid sick days are good for everyone: small business and employees."

Queens County Taqueria worker Celina Alvarez said that she was fired from her job in 2012 after an illness put her out of commission for four days. 

"Last year, I was hospitalized for four days and I lost my job just because I got sick and couldn't go back to work right away," Alvarez said. "Now I'm working at another taqueria in Queens. I don't have paid sick days and I don't ever take a day off when I'm sick because I don't want the same thing to happen to me again."

The paid sick days measure sitting in the New York City Council would allow employees who work for businesses with five or more individuals to accrue one week of paid sick days each year so that they can recuperate, or provide care for sick family members. Smaller businesses would only have to provide workers up to one week off, but they would not have to pay them. 

Other Opponents of the measure believe that compelling employers with as little as five employees to pay for sick days, would hurt so-called "mom and pop" shops. Those critics believe the threshold should be raised higher.

However, even critics of the existing bill believe it should be subjected to a democratic up or down vote.

"This legislation is long overdue, and I applaud the majority of City Council members who are sponsoring it," NYC Comptroller John Liu said. "People who are sick should not go to work. Workers without paid sick days are 50 percent more likely to report to work with contagious illnesses. People who work when they are sick reduce productivity for themselves and others. This is bad for business and it affects us all."

Friday's City Council hearing saw a cavalcade of speakers calling on Quinn to allow the paid sick days measure go to a vote. They included labor leaders Vinnie Alvarez, of the Central Labor Council, Kevin Finnegan, of 1199 SEIU, Shirley Aldebol, vice-president of 32BJ,  Dr. Toni Lewis, physician chair of SEIU Healthcare, Maria Castaneda of 1199 SEIU, Joel Shufro, of NYCOSH, Phil Andrews, director of organizing for RWDSU and Barbara Young of Domestic Workers United. 

"New York City has waited a long time for a bill supporting paid sick days," said New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer. "In the three years that the paid sick days legislation has been pending in the Council, the state of Connecticut and the cities of Seattle, Portland, and Philadelphia have all passed similar laws, and employers and employees in San Francisco and Washington DC have continued to observe their paid sick leave law without significant abuses. But women and men in New York City are still being forced to choose between their jobs and the health of their family. It's not right. We need to pass this legislation now."

 

 

 

March 23, 2013

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