Right now, in New York, the greatest city in the world, more than a million working people don’t get paid if they get sick. Even worse, they can be fired.
Even though Mayor Bloomberg has called it “God awful,” the Paid Sick Days Act, that guarantees city workers will not be punished for getting ill, is not only the right thing to do but is also good for business.
That was the message of “Healthy Workers, Healthy Businesses,” a report released last week by members of Small Business United, a coalition of business owners from immigrant neighborhoods across the city.
“I treat my employees right by providing paid sick days. My employees trust and respect me for it. The benefit of having loyal and hardworking employees I can rely on far outweighs the cost of a few paid sick days,” said Esmeralda Valencia, owner of Esmeralda’s Restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Valencia is also making an important contribution to reducing the public health risks created when employees are forced to work when ill for fear of being fired or losing pay.
After all, the report says, fully half of working New Yorkers do not have paid sick time. An estimated 41% — between 1.4 and 1.6 million workers — do not have any paid time off, whether for illness, vacation, or other uses.
A great number of them work in the food service industry. In addition, 39% of those without paid sick leave are public school parents, and not being able to take time off to recover from illness or care for a sick child is a real threat to public health.
To hear the bill opponents talk is to think that passing the very modest Paid Sick Act, would make the capitalist system crumble. The bill, which requires employers to provide only a small amount of paid sick time, is currently pending in the City Council and is supported by an overwhelming majority of its members.
In its latest version, mom-and-pop stores (those with five employees or less) only have to give workers five days sick leave per year without pay, although they can not be fired. No threat to capitalism here.
Not surprisingly it is the chambers of commerce who oppose the legislation. They argue it would place too much of a financial burden on small businesses.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has mayoral aspirations, shares that position and has not allowed the bill to be voted on. Bloomberg, who has not seen a bill favoring workers he doesn’t hate, has promised to veto it if it is ever approved.
Yet, the truth is that small business owners are the bill’s biggest supporters. As the report says, “Treating customers right and treating employees like family are small business values. In keeping with these values, many small business owners agree in principle with setting a standard for earned paid sick time.”
The report also finds savings for small business owners in providing paid sick days by reducing turnover and increasing employee retention in businesses.
“By providing paid sick time, we are also ensuring that our employees have a paycheck to count on when they need it most — to go see a doctor or dentist, to buy medications, or to take care of their family’s needs,” said Dr. Hanette Gómez , who has operated the Clínica Dental Latina in Corona for 22 years.
The message of the Small Business United report is clear: Passing the Paid Sick Days Act is morally right, makes business sense and a great many small merchants support it.
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