Paid Sick Leave – Long Overdue

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

The City Council has finally approved legislation that mandates paid sick leave for almost all workers.  The Earned Sick Time Act will go into effect next April, providing more than a million workers with a job benefit that is sorely needed.

The Council passed the bill by a margin of 45 to 3.  New York City will join San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and the state of Connecticut, all of which have adopted paid sick leave legislation.

Nearly two-thirds of low-income black and Latino workers in the city don’t have paid sick leave.  These are workers who can least afford to lose their pay when illness strikes.  Half of low-income respondents in a Community Service Society (CSS) survey said they have less than $500 to fall back on in case of an emergency.  In these circumstances, low-income working parents often have had to choose between their paychecks and caring for a sick child.  For these workers, losing even a day’s pay hurts.

While passage of the law is a huge victory, it is not all that advocates wanted. Workers in manufacturing and for small employers with fewer than 15 employees will not yet be required to provide paid leave, just five days of unpaid leave. CSS will continue to push for expansion of the law because all workers need and deserve this fundamental protection and all employers deserve a level playing field.

Mayor Bloomberg has always been against paid sick leave.  “It will hurt small businesses and stifle job creation,” he said.  Yet San Francisco, which was the first municipality to mandate paid sick leave for all workers, has determined that it has had no adverse effects on jobs.  CSS surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers in all income groups support a law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.

It is frustrating to hear this mayor and other opponents of the law make the usual dire warnings when working people get a break.

When the eight hour day was instituted, when child labor was outlawed, when the minimum wage was established, when Social Security was adopted, when Medicare was approved, the voice of the business community was always heard predicting disaster.

When Social Security was adopted in 1935, businessmen and their conservative representatives predictably predicted doom.  "The lash of the dictator will be felt and 25 million free Americans will for the first time submit themselves to a finger print test."  So said Representative Daniel Reed (R-NY). 

In 1964, when Congress was debating Medicare, Ronald Reagan toured the country warning that Medicare would be the end of democracy in America.  Reagan said that if Medicare was adopted, “one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

For anyone following the never ending debates over President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, this must sound familiar.  The bill that passed the Council applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees.  They will be required to provide five paid sick days a year.  Both “mom and pop” establishments and manufacturing businesses will be exempt.  The law will go into effect only if the city’s economy can handle its effects as measured by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

This is also a public health concern.  The public bears the costs when germs are transmitted to customers in restaurants or supermarkets, parents send sick children to school because they cannot afford to take the day off, and workers end up in emergency rooms because they cannot get treated during work hours.

Paid sick leave is a common sense policy that will make the city a better and healthier place - not just for low-income workers, but for all New Yorkers.

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