New Yorkers will be able to call out sick and not get fired; so why are some complaining?

Posted at 7:01 PM, Mar 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-03-29 20:09:02-04

New York is set to surpass four cities and one state to become the largest jurisdiction in the country to guarantee sick leave for employees.  Even though a million New Yorkers are expected to benefit, not everyone is pleased with the measure hailed on Friday by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“All New Yorkers can work… without fear or threat of losing their jobs,” Speaker Quinn said amid applause at a rally on the steps of City Hall Friday morning.  The event was to mark a compromise the speaker had come to with labor organizations and other members of the city council on legislation that she had resisted for three years.

Quinn had used her position as leader of the council to sideline efforts to put paid sick leave up for a vote before the council.  However, in this election year, her position changed.

“We feel that’s how politics work in America,” Hector Figueroa, president of the 32BJ  building workers union, told PIX11 News.  “No one should be surprised.”

He said that he was pleased with the measure that was spearheaded by him and City Councilmember Gale Brewer, (D)Upper West Side, Manhattan, even though his union had originally wanted the legislation to require paid sick leave at all companies employing five or more people.  It does not.

Instead, the bill will require that by April first of next year, companies with 20 or more employees will have to give five paid sick days to those workers.  Then, by October 15, 2014, companies employing 15 or more will have to offer five paid sick days.  By October first of next year, every company in New York City with fewer than 15 workers will be required to give its employees five unpaid sick days.

Some one million New Yorkers who currently do not have paid sick leave will benefit, assuming the measure gets voted into law.  It is widely expected to be approved, but that’s not necessarily going over smoothly with everyone.

“On top of paid sick leave, we also had a minimum wage increase, and Obamacare is coming into play,” said New York Restaurant Association spokesperson Andrew Moesel to PIX11 News.  “When you add all those things together, it will be very hard for small businesses to stay in business.”

Christine Quinn

Quinn had used her position as leader of the council to sideline efforts to put paid sick leave up for a vote before the council. However, in this election year, her position changed.

He said he agreed with the Employment Policies Institute, or EPI, an affiliated organization in Washington, DC.  It said that a recent study it commissioned showed that “where similar laws have passed, employers have adjusted to the laws’ new costs by scaling back on employee benefits, hours, wages and even jobs.”

Washington DC, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and the state of Connecticut have all passed similar measures, but New York City is set to be the largest entity, by population, with a paid sick leave law.

EPI also said that “in Connecticut, [the] statewide law has led to some businesses cutting employee compensation and curtailing plans to expand.”

At least one small business owner in New York City disagrees.  Esmerelda Valencia, whose eponymous restaurant, Esmerelda’s, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, employs ten people, said that the new paid sick leave bill needs to be the citywide standard.

She told PIX11 News that she gives paid sick leave to all of her employees, but “all small business owners are not like me.  So it’s important that everyone gets paid sick days.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been adamantly against the measure since it was first promoted by Councilmember Brewer in 2009.  He issued a statement saying, in part, “While this compromise version of the bill is better than previous iterations, it will still hurt small businesses and stifle job creation.  …The bill is short-sighted economic policy that will take our city in the wrong direction, and I will veto it.”

The council has enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.  There is still one factor that could derail the paid sick leave bill:  it cannot go into effect if, by April 2014, the city’s economy is not stronger than a benchmark established by the Federal Reserve last year.

“We’re already well above that [benchmark]” the bill’s primary sponsor, Gale Brewer, told PIX11 News.