Too Ill To Work? New York City Passes Paid Sick Leave Measure

May 12, 2013  |  

Some good news for those of you who work in New York City. Lawmakers voted this week to make businesses provide paid sick days to an estimated one million workers who don’t already have it.

Under the measure, employees of businesses with 20 or more workers would get up to five paid sick days a year beginning in April 2014; the benefit would start by October 2015 at companies with 15 to 19 workers. All others must provide five unpaid sick days annually.

Workers would be able to choose to work extra hours instead of taking sick time.

This could start a nationwide trend as other cities might for New York City’s example. New York is now positioned to become the most populous place to approve such a law. Although the mayor is expected to veto the law, an override is also expected.

Supporters, including feminist Gloria Steinem and Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon, see paid sick time as a basic matter of working conditions also as a way to stop spreading sickness. The New York measure’s sponsor, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, told USA Today it’s about “a workplace that is safe, fair and respectful of the lives of workers.”

On the other side, critics claim some small businesses can’t afford the benefit and they resent the implication that they’re forcing ailing employees to come in to work and creating a public health problem. They suggest that government allows bosses and employees work out sick time arrangements on their own. For example, some restaurants practice shift-switching systems instead of paid time off, partly on the premise that servers would rather not lose out on tips.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is against the move because he said it would “hurt small businesses and stifle job creation.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn declined for three years to bring the proposal to a vote, but she came under increasing pressure to support it this year, when she’s also campaigning for mayor. Some companies will be exempt, such as manufacturing companies because they’re struggling, Quinn said.

Civil rights organization released this statement about the measure:

Today, we applaud the NYC Council on their historic passage of the bill. Nearly a million mostly Black and brown, and low-wage workers are one step closer to no longer having to choose between caring for themselves or loved one in the event of an illness and missing a day’s pay — or worse, being fired. Now it’s time for Mayor Bloomberg to stand up to the city’s business elite, and sign the critical bill into law.

Paid sick time measures have been approved in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut.

But the country isn’t unanimous for similar sick leave measures. The Wisconsin legislature blocked a voter-approved Milwaukee paid sick time requirement. Denver voters also voted against one, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed one last month and an override attempt failed.

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