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Know Your Rights
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Supporters of dead NYer call for paid sick leave

NEW YORK — Supporters of a supermarket worker who died after delaying medical care for stomach pain that turned out to be cancer rallied Wednesday on the steps of City Hall, calling on legislators to pass a measure that would guarantee paid sick days for many of the city’s workers.

The bill, which would require businesses with 20 or more employees to give each of them nine paid sick days a year, has the support of at least 36 City Council members — enough to override a veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who opposes the measure.

But City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has declined to bring the matter to a vote, despite a mounting campaign from high-profile advocates including feminist icon Gloria Steinem and liberal group Quinn argues that, while the goals of the bill are laudable, the measure would hurt employers that already are struggling.

“Right now, in this economy, if we were to mandate it, it would cost us jobs and have a very negative effect on small businesses,” Quinn said Wednesday. Supporters [including Make the Road New York] of the bill estimate that at least 1.1 million workers in the city have no paid sick days.

Outside City Hall, friends and family of Felix Trinidad said they believed a law mandating paid sick time might have prevented his death at age 34. Trinidad, originally from Atlixco, Mexico, worked for months with stomach pain, convinced he had an ulcer, before he finally went to the hospital and received a diagnosis of cancer.

“He was so worried about taking time off of work that he didn’t” go to the doctor, Trinidad’s wife, Anastacia Gonzalez, said in Spanish through a translator. Missing even a few hours of work from his 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week schedule could have threatened the family’s ability to pay its rent, said Gonzalez, who arrived at the rally with the couple’s 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

“To me, it’s a basic right,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the lead sponsor of the bill, which would also require businesses with between five and 19 workers to offer employees five sick days a year. Under the measure, workers at even smaller businesses would be able to miss work at least five days a year without losing their jobs, although they wouldn’t necessarily be compensated.

Members of the business community have argued the measure would cost more than employers can afford and scare entrepreneurs away from the city.

“New York is among the most expensive and highly regulated places to operate a business,” business group Coalition for a Healthy Economy said in a letter to Quinn earlier this month. “Employers here are competing for workers and tend to offer the very best salaries and benefits they can afford.”

The issue presents what may be a tricky balancing act for Quinn, a Democrat who is a frontrunner in the 2013 mayoral race and is widely perceived to have the support of Bloomberg and, with him, many of the city’s business leaders. At the same time, no Republican has declared an intention to run for City Hall, and the election may be decided in the Democratic primary, where the backing of labor and progressive groups can make a significant difference.

The issue could also sway voters. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that the bill has the support of 73 percent of New York City voters and 81 percent of Democrats.

Women’s organizations have been pushing for similar legislation across the country. Connecticut and Seattle mandated paid sick leave last year, and San Francisco has had a law in place since 2007.

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