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Know Your Rights
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Council passes bill that expands paid sick time for Staten Islanders and other New Yorkers

Members of the advocacy group Make the Road New York showed their appreciation from the balcony of the City Council Chamber after the Council passed the original legislation in May.

Despite many members voicing concerns about what it will mean for small businesses, the City Council on Wednesday passed expanded paid sick time legislation by a vote of 46-5.

Staten Island’s two Republican members, Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore) and Councilman Steven Matteo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) were among the five to vote no.

The bill expands upon a carefully negotiated compromise bill passed last year. The new legislation applies to many more small businesses — any with more than five employees — and advances to April the law’s onset.

“We’re passing a bill to improve a negotiated bill which has not gone into existence yet, and I’m sorry, but I don’t see the logic in that,” Ignizio said before his vote.

Ignizio said he wants to be the “clarion call” for the bill’s having the unintended consequence of a chilling effect on small business.

“You will see business owners that will either not hire, will lay off folks or will start putting people off the books,” Ignizio said. “That does not help any of us.”

Rather than an unfunded mandate, he said, the city or state should have explored using a tax incentive to get businesses to provide paid sick time.

The bill was already unpopular with owners of businesses on Staten Island. Steve Margarella, CEO of Margarella Asphalt and Concrete, Port Richmond, called it “ridiculous” and raged against Wednesday’s Council vote.

Margarella said two key staffers had asked him, “Are you ready to move to New Jersey now?” He said he is seriously considering the move.

“I have to stay alive. The reality is, when I go, I take millions of dollars out of the local economy.”

Matteo complained the Council was “being asked to set aside months of negotiation” for a new bill.

“We are now racing to dramatically expand its application to even more businesses,” Matteo said.

The city can’t afford to become a place that is unfriendly to start-ups and established small businesses, he said:

“Mandated paid sick leave unnecessarily burdens our city small businesses at a time when our economic recovery is still slow and its sustainability is uncertain.”

The borough’s other Council member, Debi Rose (D-North Shore), voted in favor of the bill — though she told the Advance before the meeting she does share some concerns for small businesses and would look to address them.

The dissenting Islanders were joined by fellow Republican Eric Ulrich of Queens who voted in favor of the compromise legislation but said this expansion goes in the wrong direction.

“If you believe that this is a bad bill and a job-killing piece of legislation then I’m urging you to join me in voting no,” Ulrich said.

Two Democrats, Paul Vallone and Maria Del Carmon Arroyo, also voted against the bill. Many other Democrats said they were very concerned about what the legislation would mean for small businesses — and then voted in favor of it anyway.

“I really believe that small businesses may be hurt by this bill coming forward,” Councilwoman Inez Barron said, before voting in favor of it but expressing hope it could be amended later on.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens, too, said she was concerned the bill hadn’t been fully vetted, but voted yes.

“This has not been a city that has recognized that small businesses [are] the catalyst that employ local people in the districts,” Ms. Dickens said.

Councilman Ruben Wills voted in favor of the bill but said he’d introduce legislation to amend it to help small businesses.

Some tweaks were made after a hearing on the bill — lengthening the grace period for businesses to six months and reducing to two years the span of time for which businesses must hold onto records.

But those changes are hardly likely to satisfy Margarella and his ilk. “The bill was crafted by individuals that have never either owned a company or were responsible for productivity and payroll,” he complained.

He said the bill goes so far as to say if an employee believes he was chastised for taking a day off, that employee can make a charge against the owner and take him before the Labor Board.

“He can charge me and I have to defend myself and hire an attorney,” said Margarella.

Margarella said his business is like a family and he goes out of his way to take care of his hardworking employees; the bill, he said, protects the person “who comes to work, is lazy, doesn’t produce and who looks around trying to get through the day without helping the company. This bill is written for that person.”

“The climate for business, particularly in New York City, is so anti-owner that it becomes obvious that the forces that be in the City Council and the mayor’s office look to small companies as if they want to punish them,” he added.

Doreen Meinelschmidt Zayer, owner of Relax on Cloud Nine in West Brighton, said that because her business is specialized and all her 12 workers licensed, the legislation will be detrimental to her bottom line.

“I don’t know how I am going to handle it. I don’t know how I am going to absorb the additional costs and at the same time deal with the loss [financially],” she said. “I may have to lay off people.”

Regular clients have favorite therapists, she said, and will cancel or postpone their visit if their favorites aren’t there. “I don’t have the work force to replace a licensed therapist at a moment’s notice,” she said. And, “What happens when two employees are out?”

Ms. Zayer said her employees are good about making up sick or missed days, but with the legislation, now “they have no incentive. They don’t really lose but the business takes a hit on both sides.”

She said the Council should have taken into the consideration how different businesses would be affected. “This is really going to extinguish mom-and-pop businesses,” she predicted.

“I’m coming in on my 20th year and I would like to sell and move.”

Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes that in future, there will be a conservation between the administration, the Council and the business community about applicable legislation.

“Day in and day, out their bottom line is getting thinner and thinner, and mandates like these and like the Affordable Care Act, with the premiums and everything, is eating into the bottom line,” she said.

Next, she noted, businesses may have to worry about a boost in minimum wages. “Everyone deserves a fair salary, but you have to look at the overall effect — not just one thing, but how everything is affected, especially in this business climate,” Ms. Baran said.

Despite the reservations expressed by some Council members, others were bullish on the bill. Lead sponsor Councilwoman Margaret Chin noted that other cities have already enacted such laws.

“I am proud to see New York City join them today in safeguarding what should be both a public safety concern and a human right — that is the idea that if you are sick, or someone you take care of is sick, that you do not have to be afraid that you’ll lose your job or lose your paycheck,” Ms. Chin said.

But plenty were left wondering why the bill passed overwhelmingly despite the serious concerns voiced by so many.

“The fact that so many Council members had concerns about this legislation should stand for itself,” said Vallone.

Mayor Bill de Blasio spearheaded the push for the paid sick legislation — he criticized former Speaker Christine Quinn, his mayoral primary rival, for being slow to bring it to the floor and for the compromises she made.

“Because of the work of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and her colleagues, half a million more New Yorkers will soon have the dignity and security that come with paid sick leave,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Under this law, thousands of hardworking New Yorkers will no longer have to choose between taking a sick day or earning a paycheck — and thousands of parents will no longer be forced to pick between caring for a sick child and earning enough to provide for them.”

It will be the first law de Blasio signs as mayor.

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