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Know Your Rights
Source: Gotham Gazette
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Sick Leave Back at the Council

Get ready to push replay on the debate over paid
sick leave.

On the heels of the approval of health care reform
in Washington,
dozens of members of the City Council are introducing a bill today that would
require paid sick leave at thousands of city businesses, supporters said.

The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Gale Brewer,
was originally introduced in August 2009, but failed to come to the floor
during the last session. Supporters, including the increasingly influential
Working Families Party, now say they hope their work during last year’s
campaign season, electing a more "progressive" City Council, will pay

"We think there is real momentum here,"
said Donna Dolan, the chair of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition.

The latest version of the bill would require
businesses with fewer than 20 employees to provide five paid sick days a year,
said supporters. That threshold under the older version of the bill would have
been 10 employees. Under the revised version, businesses with more than 20
employees would have to provide nine sick days per year per employee. Employees
would accrue the paid time off over time, and businesses would be fined for not

The changes, supporters said, came in response to
criticism from small business advocates and the Bloomberg administration.

Brewer, who called the bill "great,"
declined to discuss the specifics of the legislation on Wednesday, holding off
until its official introduction today.

But even with the revisions, supporters have an
uphill battle.

At Odds

Even though about 34 council members have signed
onto the bill, according to one estimate, the city’s business leaders contend a
sick leave requirement for every New
York City
employer would cost too much.

"We’re certainly thankful that the council
took into consideration some of the business community’s concerns," said
Carl Hum, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce — one member of a
business coalition fighting the paid sick time bill. "But there is still a
fundamental principle that hasn’t been addressed: How are we going to pay for

According to the chamber’s estimates, the proposal
will cost at least $684 million to enact. Meanwhile, according to other opponents’
estimates, the entire cost for businesses could be $8.8 billion annually.

But according to an estimate from 2009 by the
Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the sick leave policy would cost about
$332 million annually — just 4 percent of the opponents’ estimate. Day to day
costs for businesses are also defrayed from reduced employee turnover and the
decreased spread of disease, according to the institute.

Supporters, who put the number of city workers
without paid sick time at about 1.8 million, say it’s safer and more cost
effective to keep sick employees out of the workplace than in it.

"It doesn’t mean they are going to take all the paid sick
said Julissa
Bisono, the workplace justice organizer
at advocacy group, Make the Road New York. "This is not only a
privilege, it is a right,"
she added.

As drafted last year, the bill would also allow
employees to take sick time if they were a victim of domestic violence and to
care for a family member.

The Best Medicine?

The move to mandate paid sick leave in New York City was
propelled last year by the fear of the spread of swine flu.

But New
is not the only city to consider the policy. San Francisco enacted a paid sick leave law in 2006, and Washington D.C.
followed shortly thereafter. Milwaukee
approved paid sick leave via referendum in 2008, though the matter has been
contested and is currently before its state Supreme Court.

Hum of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce said if the
council decided paid sick leave was a "moral imperative," the city
should figure out how to pay for it. Hum, who said the coalition wants to work
with the council, suggested employees chip in for their time off. Or, he added,
the city could create a business tax credit to offset its cost.

"Businesses know how to create benefit
packages," said Hum. "Businesses should be given the freedom or

Neither the mayor nor the speaker of the City
Council, Christine Quinn, have endorsed the proposal. A mayoral spokesperson
said the Bloomberg administration is still discussing the bill with the council
and therefore couldn’t comment.

A spokesperson for Quinn said in an e-mail
yesterday that the speaker would not take a position until the bill was
formally introduced and referred to committee. Quinn never took a position on
last year’s legislation.

Even with the dissent, supporters say the City
Council is different than last year. It has 13 new members, many of whom
galloped into office thanks to the support of the Working Families Party — one
of the most vocal supporters of paid sick time.

"We are cautiously optimistic," said Dan
Levitan, a spokesperson for the Working Families Party.

And just this week, the council established a
progressive caucus, and one of its first priorities is getting the paid sick leave
bill approved.

"It’s exactly the kind of legislation that we
hope to support," said Councilmember Brad Lander, who is one of the
leaders of the new caucus.