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

Leaders Begin City’s Left Turn With Sick Pay Proposal

New York City’s top elected officials said on Friday that they would greatly expand the reach of a measure mandating paid time off for sick workers, a cherished cause of the national left that had long been resisted by local business leaders.

The plan, a stark show of force by the city’s new liberal establishment, is the first in a series of labor- and immigrant-friendly laws that MayorBill de Blasio is expected to champion, including higher pay for employees on many city-sponsored projects.

For the mayor, who has been in office for two and a half weeks, the sick-leave effort carried a potent symbolic weight, offering a chance to show early action on his campaign promise to close the gap between the city’s working class and its elite.

A bill unveiled on Friday would require businesses with five or more employees to provide up to five compensated days off to full-time workers if they, or their family members, fell ill. The benefits would accrue for 360,000 more New Yorkers, and affect 40,000 more employers, than under a weaker version that passed last year, which included only companies with staffs of 15 or more.

The revised measure, which also requires workers be paid on days spent caring for sick siblings, grandchildren and grandparents, would put New York closer in line to more stringent measures enacted in Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. It must be approved by the City Council, a likely outcome since Mr. de Blasio helped elect its new speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In stagecraft and in substance, the announcement amounted to a direct jab from the city’s ascendant liberal leaders at the business-friendly, centrist politicians they have supplanted, who blocked action on a sick-leave measure for years, arguing its requirements would be financially onerous.

“Politics matter, and elections have consequences,” said Letitia James, the city’s new public advocate, in a pointed declaration that earned a broad smile from Mr. de Blasio and loud cheers on a mobbed sidewalk outside a Brooklyn restaurant, where officials introduced the measure.

The event, organized by the mayor’s office, was more like a raucous political rally than a formal news conference. Mr. de Blasio stood before a campaign-style banner featuring the slogan “One New York,” a play on his ubiquitous “tale of two cities” theme. Through loudspeakers, union officials and liberal activists [including Make the Road New York] chanted “Si, se puede!” as the mayor, at the lectern, conducted with a wave of his index finger.

“It may have taken awhile, brothers and sisters, but you never gave up the fight,” Mr. de Blasio said as he took the stage, acknowledging grass-roots advocates and council members gathered in the crowd.

“This City Hall is going to be on the side of working families all over this city,” the mayor said.

Liberal groups, led by the Working Families Party, had fought for years to enact sick-leave legislation in New York City, only to be stymied by Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael R.

Bloomberg, and the previous Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, who said businesses were too overburdened to withstand the added requirements.

Mr. de Blasio has long supported sick-leave laws, but he became more outspoken as the issue came to the forefront in the mayoral race, when he started hammering Ms. Quinn, a chief rival for the Democratic nomination, over her refusal to allow a vote on the measure. Under pressure, she eventually allowed a compromise bill to pass the Council. At the time, the city’s leading business groups, who had a sympathetic ear with Mr. Bloomberg, virulently protested the passage of the bill.

Signaling New York’s political turn, those same groups on Friday issued only tepid statements, saying they hoped to work with legislators in shaping the final form of the measure.

In interviews, small-business owners offered mixed reviews when told of Mr. de Blasio’s plans.

Sunny Singh, the manager of Market Deli in Midtown Manhattan, said he employed six workers and was fearful that the requirements would be financially harmful.

“Small businesses, they cannot afford it,” said Mr. Singh, who was overseeing a busy lunch hour, adding that he did not have enough money to pay employees who were unable to come to work. “When they are sick, they don’t get paid. It’s usually like this.”

At a Manhattan branch of the nutrition retailer GNC, Sandra Cesar, the manager, said she believed her six employees deserved the benefits included in the measure. “Everybody is entitled to get sick and get paid for it,” she said.

But Ms. Cesar said she also worried that workers eager to avoid shifts could exploit the measure. “They might take advantage of it,” she said.

In other cities, including San Francisco, where sick-leave laws are already in effect, there have been few reports of businesses forced to close or lay off workers because of the requirement.

In Washington, which passed a law in 2008 requiring even the smallest businesses to provide three paid sick days a year, an audit last year found that the law had not discouraged new businesses from opening, although some local employers reported cutting back on workers’ hours.

Despite the celebratory atmosphere of the event on Friday, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito said they would hear out the concerns of business leaders who remain anxious about the measure.

“There is going to be a deliberative process,” the mayor said. “There is going to be an opportunity to hear the voices of small business.”

But Mr. de Blasio added that advocates had already spent several years debating the measure with business groups.

And Ms. James, who as public advocate presides over Council meetings, began her remarks on Friday by pantomiming a roll-call vote on the measure, joking that she would immediately move the bill, and declaring it passed when the council members gathered at the event shouted, “Aye.”

The expanded sick-leave bill would take full effect in April, unlike the measure passed last year, which was set up to be phased in over a period of 18 months beginning in April. And Mr. de Blasio’s plan would remove several provisions included to placate corporate leaders, including a clause that would eliminate the sick-day requirements if the local economy were to erode.

Nancy Alzokari, who works at Danice, a clothing store in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said the new measure sounded like “a great step.”

A single mother, Ms. Alzokari said she was not compensated for sick days and often looked for a friend to take care of her three children if one of them was ill.

Even if someone becomes sick, she said, “the bills still got to be paid.”

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