Sick Leave Testimony from Afar
November 17th, 2009

Dana Farrington filed this report on the City Council hearings Tuesday on paid sick leave.

Advocates for paid sick leave in New York City may have viewed the law in San Francisco as an example before, but they probably had not done so literally — until today. The City Council sponsored its first video-conference during a Civil Service and Labor Committee hearing on a bill that would require paid sick leave here, allowing the division manager of San Francisco’s Office of Labor Enforcement Standards to provide testimony and answer questions regarding her city’s paid sick leave ordinance.

Donna Levitt, the division manager, explained that the business community opposed the ordinance prior to its implementation in 2007 but said that her office had not heard many complaints since.

Representatives of New Yorks business community were not convinced.

Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, called the bill “intrusive.” Wylde was the first speaker to remark that New York and San Francisco are very different, noting that New York has more transnational and nationwide businesses that would have to adopt new policies across the board.

Wylde and other business representatives who opposed the bill stressed that they were not in favor of laying off workers for missing work and said that having healthy workers was just good business. They did oppose paying more, especially in the current economy.

And although Councilmember Jessica Lappin confirmed through her questioning that the bill would not affect employers who already offered paid sick leave, Wylde said her counsel did not find the bills language specific enough to protect those employers from further expense.

Robert Bookman, legislative counsel for the New York State Restaurant Association argued that if the government wanted to create a standard for business practices regarding sick leave, they should be the ones to fund it. When asked by Councilmember James Gennaro what the business community could support, Bookman said people should not lose their jobs over missing work for sickness and that the council needed to implement a “creative funding mechanism.”

In San Francisco, the labor office worked with the business community to decide on specifics of the law, and the government educated workers about their rights.

Not all business opposed the proposed New York law. Sung Soo Kim, president of the Korean-American Small Business Service Center of New York, testified in support of the bill. He said the family businesses he represents already pay for sick leave because they “treat employees like family.”

Councilmember Eric Ulrich, one of three Republicans on the council, said, “To me, this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is a moral issue.” He evoked the memory of his grandmother who raised him pulling wet clothes out of the machines at the laundromat to put food on the table.

Testimonies from workers echoed concern for family and workers rights. Gabino Hernndez read his testimony in Spanish during a rally in support of the bill before the hearing that included labor unions, community organizations, public health experts, small business owners, and advocates for women and families, including feminist Gloria Steinem and the bill’s lead sponsor, Councilmember Gale Brewer. Hernndez said he lost his restaurant job after he took a few days off to recover from a physical assault that resulted in his hospitalization. He said he had been working at that restaurant for a year and a half.

During the hearing, Hernndez and other attendees who used headsets provided by the advocacy group Make the Road New York so they could to hear the testimony in Spanish.

For more, including arguments pro and con, see The Fight Over Paid Sick Leave.

By on November 17, 2009, 11:05 pm
In category: Gotham City,Health | Comments Off on Sick Leave Testimony from Afar

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