On days when Leandra Requena was sick, in the time when she worked as a non-union seamstress, she had little choice but to report for duty, sewing her way through the flu or a cold.
Like Requena, Guillermo Barrera** didn’t get paid sick days at his restaurant job in Brooklyn. When he fell sick this September and left work for the hospital, he was fired for taking time off.
Today, over 900,000 working New Yorkers don’t get paid sick days, forcing many to work through illnesses or risk being let go in order to take care of sick children. In response, the City Council is considering passing the Paid Sick Days Act, introduced legislation that would require small businesses with fewer than ten employees to provide workers with five paid sick days per year.
Hundreds of workers marched over the Brooklyn Bridge in support of the measure October 1, lending weight to a proposed bill that already has the backing of 38 council members. The march started in Brooklyn Heights and ended at a City Hall rally organized by Make the Road New York, the largest immigrant rights group of its kind in the city. The rally attracted several elected officials and recent primary winners, community rights groups, and workers eager to show their support for the bill.
In an interview, Javier Valdes, Make the Road’s deputy director, said the large turnout indicated how important the issue has become.
"It shows how committed [people] are to making sure the bill gets passed this year," said Valdes. He said workers should not be forced to decide between losing their jobs, especially now when they are scarce, and getting proper medical attention for themselves or family members. "In this economy, we just don’t want people making those kinds of decisions," Valdes said.
Adela Valdez, a Make the Road member who lives in Jackson Heights, said she has never gotten paid sick days in all her time working in New York.
She told the story of one boss, at a lamp factory, who gave her permission to go to the hospital once when she was sick, but added she need not bother returning to work if she went. Valdezsaid she decided not to miss work.
Paid sick days would alleviate those types of situations, said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, whose 21st Council District includes parts of Jackson Heights. "It’s important," Ferreras said of the bill, which she supports.
"I’d be thrilled to see if pass before the end of the year," said Brad Lander, the Democratic nominee for the 39th Council District.
** Make the Road New York member