At noon today, advocates staged a vigil on the steps of City Hall for a 34-year-old grocery store worker without paid sick leave who wasn’t able to take time off to address severe pain he was experiencing until it was too late. He died of stomach cancer on July 12.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has yet to allow a vote on a paid sick leave bill that advocates argue would have allowed the worker, Felix Trinidad Tzatzapotla, to find his cancer at a treatable stage, said that though she feels bad for his family, her position on the legislation remains the same.
“Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family,” she said, following a press conference about climate change. “That said, my position on paid sick leave legislation has not changed.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s business establishment oppose paid sick leave, which would require businesses to provide, depending on their size, from five to nine paid days off a year. Businesses with fewer than five employees would have to provide up to five unpaid days off.
The legislation has the support of a veto-proof majority in the City Council. Quinn hasn’t said she opposes the paid-sick mandate in principle, as Bloomberg has, but she hasn’t allowed a vote on it, citing the effect it would have on business in the current economic conditions.
Quinn, it should be noted, is also running for mayor next year, and is trying to win the support of both the business community and the liberal Democratic voters who turn out for primaries in New York City. It’s a tricky balancing act.
The vigil for Trinidad is the latest gesture by labor advocates from groups like the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York designed to exert pressure on the speaker.
A coalition of women that includes Gloria Steinem has also publicly asked Quinn to support the measure, to no apparent effect.
Asked today whether a poll showing more than 70 percent of voters support the leiglsation, Quinn was similarly unmoved.
“You know, as I said a few seconds ago, my position on the paid sick leave legislation has not changed,” she said. “I think the goal of paid sick leave as a mandatory thing in New York City is a laudable goal. It’s a goal, unfortunately, that I think right now in this economy, if we were to mandate, it would cost us jobs and have a very negative effect on small business.”
Asked what the economy would have to look like in order for the bill to become more palatable to her, Quinn didn’t really answer.
“Right now I don’t believe the economy is in a place where i can support it,” she said. “I made a committment almost two years ago to continue to meet on a regular basis with Councilmember [Gale] Brewer, the main sponsor, to review economic data and continually be monitoring that. We’ve done that and it has certainly not gotten to a place where I feel I can change my position today.”
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