Straight from the horse’s mouth: Don’t believe those who say otherwise, the Paid Sick Days Act is not only the right thing to do but is also good for business.
That was the message a group of small business owners conveyed yesterday in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Gathered in front of Tía Julia – Antojitos Mexicanos, a food truck located at Roosevelt Ave. and Benham St., a dozen owners of restaurants, delis, groceries and law firms from Brooklyn and Queens rallied with more than 40 supporters to demand Council Speaker Christine Quinn support paid sick days legislation stalled in the City Council.
"I understand the public health risks created when workers have no paid sick days," said Julio Hernández,** Tía Julia’s owner. "I don’t want to serve food that could make my customers sick. If any of my employees is sick, it is better for him, my customers and everybody if he stays home."
Hernández is correct, of course, but without paid sick days, employees are forced to work even when ill for fear of being fired or losing pay. Stories of workers fired for calling in sick are as common in New York as a crowded subway car during rush hour.
Opponents claim this bill is bad for businesses but many immigrant-owned small businesses in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Corona and Bushwick support the legislation and have repeatedly urged Quinn to bring it to a vote ASAP.
"Being a small-business owner is not easy and paid sick days will be an added cost," said María de los Santos,** who owns Colombian Jeans Boutique, Mary’s Florist and Mary’s Jeans in Brooklyn. "But as the federal government found, the cost is very small. I am much more worried about rent, gas, taxes. And considering how much it would benefit my business, my employees and the public, it is very cheap."
As with the living-wage bill, Quinn, who has mayoral ambitions and is doing her best not to rock the big business boat, has refused so far to take a public position on this bill even though it has a veto-proof majority – with 36 out of 51 Council members supporting it.
Forty-eight percent of working New Yorkers – or about 1.65 million people – do not have paid sick leave. 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.
This bill would give workers up to five days a year if employed at small businesses – those with fewer than 20 workers – and up to nine days at large firms. Most of the city private employers fall into the small-businesses category.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data helps dispel the myth of this legislation as harmful to businesses. Contrary to what opponents say, paid sick days would cost only 8 cents an hour for workers in private service jobs.
"Experience has taught me that finding reliable employees is no easy task," Hernández said. "The trust between me and my employees is very important and I want to create an environment in which my workers feel safe and can produce more. The Paid Sick Days Act would do that and would strengthen my business."
It’s telling – and important – that most of these business people support the paid sick days bill as much out of a desire to improve their businesses as of a profound sense of civic responsibility.
"As a businessman I support the Paid Sick Days Act because it is good for my business," Hernández said. "But I also support it because I feel that I want to do the right thing for my employees and the community."
**Julio Hernández and Maria de los Santos are members of Make the Road New York.