Council Speaker Christine Quinn astounded many of her liberal supporters Thursday by squashing a bill that would require private employers to give their workers nine paid sick days.
There will be no vote, Quinn decreed, even though two-thirds of her fellow councilmembers back the bill, and even though polls showed more than three-quarters of city residents favor some kind of sick-pay legislation.
She rejected any kind of bill despite a disturbing report from the Community Service Society that more than a million workers in the city have no sick pay – and that number is growing rapidly.
Instead, Quinn sided with Mayor Bloomberg, who was threatening a veto, and with the city’s business leaders, who kept warning such a law would lead to more lost jobs for New York.
“This was a tough decision,” Quinn said in an interview.
“I support the goal of expanding benefits to workers, [but] I have to help small businesses stay alive in a fragile economy.”
Nonsense, says Dan Morris of the nonprofit Drum Major Institute. The same dire predictions of job flight were heard in San Francisco back in 2006. That’s when the city’s voters overwhelmingly approved sick-pay benefits for all private employees.
A 2009 study by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors concluded that “employers [are] experiencing only minor impact on their bottom line.”
By early this year, the number of jobs in San Francisco had actually increased by 3.5% over 2006, Morris notes.
Meanwhile, in the five counties around San Francisco – all with no sick pay laws – jobs dropped by 3.4% over the same period.
Earlier this year, the head of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, who originally opposed the San Francisco sick pay law, acknowledged it was “the best public policy for the least cost.”
Lost in the debate over cost-benefit are the heartrending stories of ordinary low-wage workers who dare not stay home to care for a sick child or to recuperate properly from an illness because they fear losing their jobs.
Workers like Adela Valdez,** who toiled for three years in a sweatshop on Canal St., only blocks from City Hall.
Valdez, 40, and 15 other immigrant workers assembled lamps in a windowless basement area, breathing dust and fumes all day from their constant soldering of the metal fixtures.
One day, Valdez came down with fever. For three days she kept reporting to the factory, she says, until she felt so weak she could barely stand up.
“I told my boss, ‘I need to go to a doctor,'” she recalled. “She got angry and told me, ‘Go ahead and go, but from now on, you have no job.'”
In a country as great as ours, one with such enormous prosperity, you would think every employee would be accorded the simple dignity of being allowed to get well when they fall sick and not be penalized.
By refusing to allow a simple majority vote on such a basic issue, Christine Quinn has revealed exactly whose side she’s on.
**Member of Make the Road new York (MRNY).