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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Council Speaker Shelves a Sick-Leave Bill

Against the wishes of a veto-proof majority in the City Council, the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, effectively shelved a much-debated bill** that would have required all employers in the city to provide paid sick days to their workers.

Ms. Quinn said Thursday that she could not support the measure because she feared that it “threatens the survival of small-business owners.” But her decision to side with the business interests that had lobbied aggressively against the bill drew immediate charges that Ms. Quinn had undermined her progressive roots to enhance her prospects of being elected mayor in 2013.

She drew particular scorn from the Working Families Party, a coalition of progressive groups and labor unions, which had been pushing for the sick-leave bill. Bob Master, the party’s co-chairman, called Ms. Quinn’s decision “a defeat for the hundreds of thousands of low-income workers in New York City who will be forced to choose between taking a day off when they are sick and the paycheck they need.”

The bill would have mandated that workers receive at least five days of paid leave for their own illness or to care for family members. It would have applied only to workers who do not receive at least one week of paid time off, including vacation, each year. The bill’s proponents said they had lined up the support of 35 of the 51 council members, enough to overcome an expected veto by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said last week that the measure would be “disastrous” for the city’s economy.

But Ms. Quinn said she would not call for a vote on the measure, which for more than a year has been the subject of negotiations between advocates for working-class New Yorkers and business groups. Citing the city’s unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent, Ms. Quinn said it was “simply not the right time” to place an additional burden on small businesses. She said the economy would have to improve before she would reconsider her opposition.

“We tried to get to a compromise where we could expand benefits without putting small businesses at risk of closure,” she said. “We were unable to do that.”

Ms. Quinn did not offer any statistical support for the argument that the legislation might have been “the breaking point” for a significant number of businesses, but she said it would cost smaller firms about $700 a year for each employee, and larger employers about $1,200. A report by the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city’s biggest employers, estimated that the bill could cost businesses nearly $800 million a year.

But proponents of the bill said that projection was too dire. Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, said it would have cost employers about $8 a worker per week.

A study of the effects of a similar law in San Francisco concluded that it had not harmed the local economy. That study, conducted by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a liberal research group, found that San Francisco had added jobs since a paid-sick-leave law was put into effect, while the surrounding areas had lost jobs.

Gale A. Brewer, the councilwoman who was the bill’s lead sponsor, indicated that she would not try to bring the measure for a vote over Ms. Quinn’s objection. But she vowed to keep pushing for the measure in the Council.

“This bill is simply the right thing to do,” said Ms. Brewer, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side. “It has overwhelming support from New Yorkers and in the City Council, the facts on the ground in San Francisco show it is good for business, and it is a lifeline for public health.”

Restaurant owners and other business groups cheered Ms. Quinn’s decision.

“Speaker Chris Quinn showed real leadership today in making the courageous decision to defend the city’s small-business community against another costly mandate,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City.

Such talk fed the view of some critics that Ms. Quinn had her sights on the mayor’s office when she sided with Mr. Bloomberg and against the majority of her fellow council members. Though Ms. Quinn has refused to divulge her political aspirations, she is widely believed to be a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Bloomberg and will need the support of business owners as a counterweight to other contenders who will appeal to progressive voters.

But Ms. Quinn said she had made her decision independent of any aspirations she might have for higher office. “I have to go to bed tonight as the speaker of the City Council,” she said.

A prominent supporter of the legislation, Gloria Steinem, said, “Speaker Quinn had a chance to really improve the lives of working women, especially low-income women, and chose not to.”

**Spearheaded by Make the Road New York (MRNY).