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Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Bill calls for paid vacation weeks

A bill introduced in the City Council late last month would require businesses with 10 or more employees to provide then with up to four weeks of paid vacation leave.

The legislation caught many council members and business leaders off guard. The mayor’s office studiously avoided taking a position. Even the bill’s lead sponsor sounded slightly flummoxed last week when pressed for details.

“I don’t think so,” said Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, after Crain’s asked if the bill was an attempt to capture the populist momentum from the expanded paid-sick-leave law that had just gone into effect. “I’m not sure.”

“Bills get jumbled in my head,” he later admitted.

For businesses already having to comply with paid sick leave, the vacation bill was further evidence that city government under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito had overreached and become tone-deaf to the needs of the private sector. That may be one reason why the bill appears to be DOA for now—even Mr. Williams said it was too soon after the expansion of the paid-sick-leave law to consider this new measure.

The bill’s origins suggest that the issue lacks the institutional support that drives much legislation in the City Council. Unlike the paid-sick-leave bill—drafted over several years by then-Councilwoman Gale Brewer and her legislative staff, along with advocacy groups like A Better Balance, Make the Road New York and the Working Families Party, and eventually aides to then-Speaker Christine Quinn—the paid-vacation bill appears to have emerged with no apparent backer other than Mr. Williams.

Even the bill’s other co-sponsor, Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson, didn’t realize he was the only other member to sign on to it before it was introduced, one source said. (Mr. Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.)

Under the proposed bill, vacation time would be accrued based on the amount of time worked. An employee would earn 40 annual hours of paid vacation time upon reaching 12 months of work, 60 hours per year at 18 months, 80 hours at 30 months, and 120 hours for 60 months.

This, on top of the five days already required for each employee under the paid-sick-leave law that went into effect April 1, amounts to as much as four weeks of paid time off a year.

Most employers provide paid vacation time, but some smaller businesses are unable to or can’t afford it, or do so on a looser, less-regulated basis. The Brooklyn councilman’s bill calls for employers to be fined $500 or more for failing to provide paid vacation time to workers.

Legislation introduced in the council often originates from within progressive grassroots organizations and think tanks before landing on the desk of whichever council member is seen as most sympathetic to the cause (or most likely to shepherd it to passage). These bills then go through several drafting rounds with the council’s legal staff to ensure every ‘T’ is crossed and every term defined.

But sometimes bills spring spontaneously from the minds of council members (or the minds of their legislative directors), without any consultation from advocacy groups or stakeholders on the potential impact.

The paid-vacation-leave bill appears to have taken the latter route.

Tepid response

“Nobody asked our opinion before it [was introduced],” said Javier Valdés, co-executive director of immigrant-rights group Make the Road, who was one of the authors of the paid-sick-leave bill.

The Working Families Party also was not involved in writing the paid-vacation-leave legislation, a source said. Nor was the legal-advocacy group A Better Balance. Both organizations helped craft the sick-leave bill.

Other members of the council said they only first heard of the bill after Crain’s broke the news March 31. Few seemed particularly enthused by its introduction, citing concerns from employers in their districts about the rush to comply with the recently expanded paid-sick-leave law.

“We can’t keep nickel-and-diming small businesses,” groused one council member, noting the paid-sick-leave law had not even gone into effect before the vacation bill emerged.

“We got to pump the brakes a little on this stuff,” said another.

Indeed, while Mr. de Blasio has been an unabashed booster for paid sick leave, his office declined to take a stance on Mr. Williams’ bill.”

The administration has not reviewed the legislation, and is focused on ensuring that the millions of New Yorkers now covered by paid sick leave get the benefits they deserve, and that the businesses that employ them have the information they need to effectively implement the new law,” a spokeswoman for the mayor said.

Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, was similarly evasive when asked about the bill after delivering a speech before the Association for a Better New York. “We just started implementing paid sick days yesterday, so I’m really focused on that right now,” she said last Wednesday.

Seven years ago, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research produced a report that found the U.S. to be the only developed country in the world that does not legally guarantee vacation time. John Schmitt, one of the report’s authors, said he hadn’t heard of the New York bill, but said it could represent a “small step” toward bringing that benefit to the U.S.

Mr. Williams may have doomed his bill’s chances by declining to go the more established route of involving the various think tanks and progressive groups in the drafting of the legislation. Mr. Valdés of Make the Road said that while the intent of the vacation-leave bill appears worthy, it is not a priority issue for his group.

“We really need to see a strategy behind how to actually move this forward,” he said. “We don’t feel that introducing legislation without any strategy helps anybody.”

Mr. Williams’ aides cite a recent bill mandating paid vacation time in Washington state as inspiration. But in a subsequent interview, Mr. Williams distanced himself from his own legislation, arguing that he introduces dozens of bills and that this one was meant to serve as a “conversation starter.”

“An idea has been introduced,” he said. Bringing advocates on board “happens after you’ve decided you want to push this forward.”

[To view orginal article click here]