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Know Your Rights
Source: Family Values @ Work
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

New Yorkers Turn Out for Paid Sick Days

Supporters of the Paid Sick Time Act in New York City held a spirited rally May 11 and then packed the City Council Chambers for a hearing on the bill. Rally speakers included representatives from Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, labor, a restaurant owner, a former chef from Make the Road and several Council Members.

The great turnout of workers with signs and chanting inspired all as we marched into the hearing room. Panels of supporters alternated with opponent panels for a session that lasted more than five hours.

Each panel in favor of the bill featured at least one worker telling compelling stories of the consequences when paid sick days are lacking, and most included business supporters as well. One worker had to testify behind a screen to conceal her identity as she described being fired by a Brooklyn bank for taking a day off to be with her hospitalized 2-year-old, even though her supervisor had said evidence of the hospitalization would be acceptable. Opponents continued to promote confusion, as when they tried to argue that any bill should require workers to share the cost of the benefit as they do in New Jersey – referring to what they called that state’s paid sick leave law. Actually New Jersey has a family leave insurance program, designed to provide wage replacement when a worker is out for extended time because of a new baby or serious illness. Council questioning Kevin Miller, a researcher at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, cleared up that and other misinformation.

In addition to employers and workers from groups like Restaurant Opportunities Center and Make the Road, speakers in favor of the bill included experts from the fields of health, research, and employment law. Make the Road worker Maximino Santos, a chef, spoke in Spanish with a translator: “When the boss makes you work when you’re sick, you end up infecting the food and infecting customers. I had to buy a face mask so I wouldn’t infect the food from my coughing. After working five years, I lost my job two months ago because of missed days due to bronchitis and pneumonia.” He held up medical evidence indicating that as a 45-year-old he has the lungs of an 84-year-old man, since he delayed so long taking off work to go to the doctor.

Small business CEO Samira Rajan of Brooklyn testified that allowing staff to take time off when they’re sick “is a basic right and expectation. A sick employee is not performing their job duties, and depresses overall staff morale.” Rajan, who provides paid sick days, said an ailing employee could also pass an illness on to customers.

Sen. Chris Dodd, a lead sponsor of the federal Healthy Families Act, sent a letter of support noting that “New York has the opportunity to lead the nation by standing up for its workers and guaranteeing them paid sick days.”

Even business leaders against the bill had to agree that workers should not be fired if they have to take a sick day. But opponents are trying to delay action by saying they want to do a study to identify those bad employers. The measure has 35 sponsors – enough to overturn a mayoral veto if necessary. It’s time for Council Speaker Christine Quinn to call for a vote!