New Yorkers have grown increasingly impatient with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s refusal to allow a vote on the Paid Sick Days bill.
She wants to be mayor and voters would like to know if Quinn has the moral courage to put the well being of one million New Yorkers — the number of workers without paid sick days — above her own political ambitions.
So far the speaker has been the main reason these low-income employees remain in a situation in which getting sick is an unaffordable luxury. For them, taking a few days off to recover from an illness means losing income or even their jobs.
That is what happened to Dominican-born Bernardo Mercedes León. For nine years he worked 14-hour days loading trucks at Noamex Inc., a huge recycler of used clothing in Brooklyn. After a bout of pneumonia forced him to miss several days of work two weeks ago, he was summarily fired.
“It was raining and I was working outside and got wet,” remembers the 25-year-old father of two, whose weekly take home pay was $440. “I developed a fever and began to vomit and the boss told me to go home.”
One week without pay later he finally was healthy enough to go back to work.
“But when I got there I was told to get out, that I no longer had a job,” he said.
Stories like Leon’s are the daily bread of the city’s low-income workers. That’s what makes it so hard to understand that the Paid Sick Days bill, originally introduced by Council member Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan), has been languishing in the Council for more than 1000 days despite having enough votes — 37 cosponsors out of 51 members of the Council– to pass.
A majority of New Yorkers –83% — also favors such a law, according to a Community Service Society poll (Oct. 2012).
Last Monday 15 women elected officials — members of Congress, the Council and the state legislature — along with Make the Road NY, the Working Families Party and dozens of workers held a City Hall press conference calling on Quinn to stop blocking the vote.
“The time to pass the Sick Paid Act in New York City is long overdue. This issue of social justice and public health must be addressed immediately,” said Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-Brooklyn)
The act would allow workers to earn five paid sick days a year. Businesses with fewer than five employees would be exempt from the requirement, and would only have to provide five unpaid but job protected sick days.
Yet, business interests fiercely oppose this very modest bill and make it sound as if passing it would bring down the capitalist system