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Know Your Rights
Source: Crain's New York Business
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Paid sick days are back in City Council spotlight

If City Council Speaker Christine Quinn thought delivering a compromise on the living-wage bill last week would bring her a respite from unions agitating for worker-friendly legislation, she will have to think again. Proponents of a citywide paid sick days initiative [including Make the Road NY] kicked off a renewed effort at a City Hall rally Wednesday to get the City Council to pass their bill, unveiling a dozen amendments designed to make the measure appear more business-friendly and dampen the speaker’s opposition.

The most noteworthy of the amendments carves businesses with fewer than five employees out of the bill. It’s a concession for proponents, who had previously insisted that all workers in the city must be covered by the measure.

Other changes would give new companies with fewer than 20 employees a year-long grace period before the bill’s sick-day requirements kick in; calculate workers based on full-time equivalents, not bodies on the job; and clarify that any form of time off, such as vacation or personal days, can count as sick time. The sick days measure also would be suspended during emergencies for companies like Verizon, Time Warner and National Grid that might need a full workforce to make repairs.

The bill would require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide nine paid sick days per year and businesses with five to 19 workers to give five. It has enough support in the council to override a mayoral veto, but has languished for two years because of Ms. Quinn’s fears that it would harm small businesses.

“Making sure that people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick is critical to keeping our city healthy,” said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, lead sponsor of the legislation.

Ms. Quinn said Wednesday that she had yet to see the full amendments, which were first reported Wednesday in the New York Daily News, and couldn’t comment on them. “In the economic environment we are in, small business are hanging on by a thread in many cases,” she said. “And I think, although this goal is laudable, it’s not one that I can support because I think it is one that will cost us jobs and cost us small businesses and their future in these tough economic times.”

When Ms. Quinn shelved the bill in 2010, she cited opponents’ reluctance to move from “their core goal” that the bill cover all workers in New York City. She said a study by her office showed the bill would cost businesses between $700 and $1,200 a year per worker, adding up to thousands of dollars a year for small businesses.

In addition to giving ground on the desire to cover all workers, proponents are going into battle with support from heavy hitters in the city’s labor and political community. The new paid sick days drive is a priority for 1199 SEIU and the Central Labor Council, whose presidents attended Wednesday’s rally. And it’s backed by likely mayoral contenders Bill de Blasio, Scott Stringer and John Liu, giving them a potential avenue of attack against Ms. Quinn in a Democratic primary.

Mr. de Blasio on Wednesday said the amendments should help small businesses live with the bill. “With past concerns laid to rest, we owe it to working families to act now,” he said.

But the changes did little to appease opponents. “In any economic climate where job retention and creation are paramount to creating a healthy business environment, this bill would pose tremendous burdens,” said Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

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