A Right to Be Sick
March 25th, 2010
City Councilmember Gale Brewer, a number of other council members and Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party today officially announced introduction of a bill that would give all workers in New York City paid sick leave. The proponents hope changes to a similar bill introduced in 2009 will enable this year’s council to do what last year’s didn’t — and require that all private employers allow their workers at least five paid days off a year for illness or to take care of a sick child.
(For more on the bill and its prospects, see Sick Leave Back at Council.)
“There are very specific changes in the bill that address the concerns of small businesses,” Brewer said.
In particular, the new version extends the definition of a small business to those with fewer than 20 employees (as opposed to fewer than 10). The so-called small businesses would only have to provide five days of sick leave a year; bigger employers would have to grant nine. Under the new definition, Brewer said, 88 percent of city employers qualify as small.
The latest version also eases bookkeeping requirements. While still requiring paid time off for people caring for a sick child, spouse, parent, grandparent or domestic partner, it does not require people be paid for time taken off to care for more distant relations. And it also removes a provision that would have covered domestic violence victims. A spokesperson for Brewer said women’s groups felt that domestic violence victims already had some employment protections, and that since domestic violence is a crime, not a sickness, any additional efforts on that front belonged in another bill.
As council member after council member stepped up to endorse the bill, workers held signs in English and Spanish bearing fast food logos and saying all workers at (fill in your chain of choice) deserve sick leave. The speakers presented the measure as a human rights issue, a health issue — and because it would allow people time off to care for sick children or parents — a family issue. Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley portrayed it as “an economic development issue,” explaining, “who wants to go to a restaurant where some worker is sick and coughing and sneezing over the food youíre going to buy?”
Only two groups of people would oppose this bill, Councilmember Jumaane Williams said: people who have never been sick and people who are never going to get sick.
But some employers oppose it too. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he supports it in theory but never endorsed a specific bill. His spokesperson would not comment on the issue yesterday.
And while as of this afternoon, 34 council member signed on to the bill (out of 51), it lacked support from the key one: Speaker Christine Quinn. Last year, despite having the backing of a majority of council members, paid sick leave did not come to a vote, indicating that Quinn did not support it. She never took a pubic stand on it last year and after today’s rally issued her standard statement that she would factor in all the arguments as the bill went through the legislative process.
“I’ve never seen the speaker meet with so many different groups” as she has on this bill, Brewer said. Despite that, Brewer added, “she has not made up her mind.”By Gail Robinson on March 25, 2010, 6:46 pm
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