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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Workplace Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Workers won’t give up on paid sick days

In an effort to get the Paid Sick Day Act to a vote, community leaders rallied on Tuesday outside of Taqueria El Idolo in Elmhurst. The restaurant allegedly fired a worker after she missed four work days while being hospitalized, and she said would have to miss two weeks more, as per doctor’s advice.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) first introduced the measure in 2009 and since then it has gained the support of 37 councilmembers. However, despite the majority approval, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) will not allow the bill to go to a vote.

“With the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time,” said Quinn, in an emailed statement.

She added she would like to make paid sick days available and would continue to work with council members and the Paid Sick Coalition. Mayor Bloomberg opposes the act.

“Our mayor is very concerned with health — how much soda we can drink and cigarettes, but when it comes to the workers, that’s a different story,” said Jose Schiffino, a leader in the Queens Working Families Party.

Schiffino added while at Tuesday’s rally that a lack of paid sick days also affects mothers greatly because they sometimes have to pick between staying with their ill child or keeping their jobs.

If the act passed, businesses with more than five but fewer than 20 employees would be required to give five paid sick days to their workers. Establishments with more than 20 people would be required to give employees nine paid sick days.

“They are not staying at home so they can relax, it’s so they can feel better,” said Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) — one of eight Queens council members cosponsoring the legislation — who organized the rally along with Make the Road New York and the Working Families Party.

Businesses with fewer than five employees would provide five unpaid, but job-protected sick days, under the act. About 60 percent of city businesses would fall under that provision of the law, activists said.

Centro Naturista Amalias owner Amalia Cisneros [member of Make the Road New York], who has fewer than five employees, said, “but the truth is if you can afford to pay for five employees you can afford to pay for five sick days.”

The original act proposed in 2009 did not exempt businesses with fewer than five employees.

Ferreras said in addition to job security the health of the people sick employees serve in restaurants is a concern.

In addition to politicians and business owners, workers rallied on Tuesday as well. Celina Alvarez  [member of Make the Road New York] told her story about how getting sick lost her a job. Alvarez began working at the taqueria, which now has 22 employees, in 2011. She started downstairs cutting vegetables, but was promoted upstairs with an assistant working under her supervision.

However, in February of this year owner Ruben Quispi told her she had to work downstairs again.

“I felt that was being very unfair and in that moment I suddenly felt the blood rush from my head and I fainted,” Alvarez said.

She continued to feel ill, until a week later on Feb. 24 she went to the hospital where she stayed for four days.

She left the hospital with a heart monitor and a doctor’s order to stay home for two weeks. She called Quispi to tell him what had happened. He said he would call if she still had a job, but he never called back.

Under current law there is nothing she can do to regain her job, according to Make the Road organizer spokeswoman Julissa Bisono.

With the help of Make the Road, Alvarez, however, has filed a complaint with the Department of Labor for pay she said Quispi owes her for the two weeks leading up to her hospitalization.

After several attempts, Quispi could not be reached for comment.

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