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

Paid-sick forces clash

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn arrived at a packed Council hearing on the paid-sick-leave legislation a few minutes into the first panel’s testimony.

She listened silently as council members engaged in back-and-forth with supporters [including some Make the Road members] and opponents of the bill. And less than an hour later, she left the hearing, strode into a side chamber (followed closely by a hoard of news cameras), and spoke for about seven minutes about her continued opposition to the bill and her support for a bill that would establish an inspector general for the New York Police Department. Then she left.

In the lobby of City Hall, the speaker bumped into a group of high school students from the Rockaways in Queens. She posed for a few pictures, promised that the city would not neglect them, and then was out the door.

Thus ended Ms. Quinn’s participation in Friday’s hearing on the paid-sick-leave bill, a much-debated piece of legislation that has pitted the progressive community against the private sector and has dogged her mayoral campaign for months.

The economy was still too fragile to allow a vote on the bill, she said, but when asked what sort of numbers would indicate a better chance for the bill’s passage, her answer was vague.

“We’re looking a number of different things,” she said. “Progress in the development of unemployment heading in the right direction, progress in the area of fail-rates for businesses headed in the right direction, things of that nature. And we’re continuing to have conversations to monitor and calibrate those so we see the trend is heading in the right direction.”

Ms. Quinn acknowledged that there was no specific number that would trigger a vote on the paid-sick bill, which has a majority of council members as sponsors.

“These aren’t hard and fast things where you can say x or y,” she said. “But I would say if you were to pick two critical ones, unemployment heading in the right direction—which is down—and fail-rate of small businesses heading in the right direction.”

“But isn’t unemployment dropping?” one reporter asked.

“The question is: over what period of time, and how you determine what is the right period of time to feel confident that it is going to consistently remain that,” she said, before walking out. Nationally, unemployment has fallen below 8%, but the city’s rate has hovered around 9% for a while.

Ms. Quinn’s reticence about allowing a vote on the bill stood in stark contrast to her mayoral rivals, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller Bill Thompson, who earlier in the day gathered in City Hall Park to assail her position.

“Let’s make sure the speaker can’t ignore us,” Mr. Thompson said at the rally. “Let’s be honest: It’s a mayoral year. This is a year of change in the city of New York. We’re going to decide who the next mayor of New York is. John Liu is here. Bill de Blasio is here. I’m running also. But let the speaker understand that this is important to us in this year of decision.”

At the back of the rally stood John Bonizio, a Bronx business owner and chairman of the Westchester Square Business Improvement District, holding a sign over his head that read “DOH” with a red slash through it—a reference to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which would be the enforcer of the paid-sick-leave legislation. As Mr. Thompson left the rally, Mr. Bonizio took him aside to explain why he thought giving the Health Department subpoena power over businesses in New York was ill-advised.

He found a sympathetic ear.

“DOH is probably not a good place to lay responsibility for enforcement and oversight,” Mr. Thompson said, out of range of the crowd of supporters he just addressed. “DOH doesn’t have the capacity, and I don’t think anybody trusts DOH given what they’ve been doing, given how they’ve been fining people. I don’t think anybody trusts DOH.” Restaurateurs, in particular, tend to despise the agency.

Earlier this week, Mr. Thompson proposed delaying the implementation of the paid-sick bill by a year to give businesses more time to come into compliance. Previously, he had taken a less forceful position on the bill, letting Messrs. de Blasio and Liu lead the charge against Ms. Quinn. Eventually, he came out in favor of it, calling it “imperfect” but worthy of a vote.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill were continuing to explore ways they could make an end-run around Ms. Quinn. Some council members were considering issuing a “motion to discharge,” which would force a vote on the bill should its sponsor, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, agreed to officially introduce it in the council, according to Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York.

At the hearing, Ms. Brewer declined to comment on the possibility of a motion to discharge. Members, as a rule, do not force votes over the objection of the council speaker because it undermines the speaker’s power and risks retaliation.

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