As the city council moves closer to a paid sick leave bill, Upper East Side businesses respond
Soon New York City workers may not have to worry that catching the flu will cost them their job. After three years of speculation and obstruction, an agreement on a paid sick leave bill, authored by District Six City Council Member Gale Brewer, was announced in the City Council last week. The new compromise bill would require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide their employees with at least five days of paid sick leave, starting in April 1st 2014. The bill will extend to businesses with 15 or more employees by the following year. Smaller businesses would not have to pay employees, but nor can their employees be fired for taking a sick day.
“Today’s legislation granting paid sick days to working New Yorkers is big step forward for New York and the nation,” said Borough President Scott Stringer. “No longer will parents have to choose between caring for a sick child or losing their jobs, and that’s good for employers and employees alike.”
Forty-four million Americans don’t get paid time off when sick, according to Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit organization that backs paid-leave laws.
The bill has gone through many changes since it was first proposed. Namely, the bill is kinder to businesses – exempting the smallest businesses from punishment, as well as changing the policy from a stringently-enforced one to a complaint-driven system. In addition, the fines were reduced by half.
At first Speaker Christine Quinn did not approve of the union-backed bill and it floundered around the City Council for a long time. She had originally stated her approval of paid sick leave but said in a recent mayoral forum, where she was heavily criticized by fellow mayoral candidates, that “the current bill is flawed, and the city’s economy too weak to support it.” Now, in the bill’s final format, she agrees with its importance, especially in light of protecting workers’ rights.
“Because of deliberate, thoughtful, and at times hard-nosed negotiations, we now have a piece of legislation that balances the interests of workers, small business owners, and local mom and pop proprietors across this City,” said Speaker Quinn in a statement.
Although the bill was passed by the City Council, it was not endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg. The City Council with 2/3 majority in favor of the bill, has the power to overturn Mayor Bloomberg’s veto.
“While this compromise version of the bill is better than previous iterations, it will still hurt small businesses and stifle job creation,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a statement. “The bill is short-sighted economic policy that will take our city in the wrong direction, and I will veto it.”
The bill has a special provision stating that it will not go into effect if the economy is suffering.
Council Member Gale Brewer, who authored the bill, is pleased, however, with the outcome. Brewer was initially inspired by the plight of school nurses. A few years ago, when H1N1 virus was a concern, many nurses in poorer areas were stuck with an office full of swine flu-infected kids. Their parents could not pick them up because they could not get sick leave.
“I said to myself, ‘something’s wrong here,’” said Brewer. “Parents are really happy about this bill; workers are happy who hadn’t been able to take off a day. When you do a phone call in program, you get tons of people calling – either they have been fired, a single parent has been fired, you hear it all the time.”
“Economically it has not been painful in other locales who have already done something like this, so I think its the right thing to do, and for some small businesses who are already doing this, its going to level the playing field,” said Upper East Side Council Member Jessica Lappin, who has put her name on the bill, and supported it since the beginning.
We spoke with Upper East Side businesses to see how the bill would affect local workers. For most of them, the bill would not affect their day-to-day operations, because paid sick leave is already an important part of the small business structure for many companies.
“I haven’t heard of any place not giving paid sick days,” said Alex Tillirosi, the acting manager of Abbey Locksmiths on 2nd Avenue and East 81st Street. “We get sick days; I’ve never had a problem.”
“That’s the first thing I tell my employees when I hire them,” said Hassan Salami, a manager at BB Prime Butcher on East 82nd and 2nd Ave, talking about the paid sick leave benefits. “Sometimes people in here work 12 hours a day, and they need the break. They need to take care of their health.”
But Earl Geer, the owner of Hi-Life Lounge and Bar on East 78th Street and 2nd Avenue does not approve of such a bill.
“People who have been with the company for a long period of time, it makes sense,” said Greer. “But it can’t be automatic. This kind of thing should be market driven, not government-regulated. Most of my employees would rather higher pay than sick leave.”
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