Thursday, December 17, 2009

City Council Stirs Up Sick Leave Controversy

Bill Would Require Small Business to Provide Paid Days Off

By Patricia Adams

A bill introduced by the City Council has fueled a strong two sided argument over proposed paid sick leave for employees. Intro No. 1059 would require NYC small and medium businesses, (SMB’s), to give workers, both full and part time, nine paid sick days.

Small business is defined in New York State as those enterprises who employee fewer than 100 people, while medium business can employ 500.

Supporters of the measure report that nearly one million New Yorkers of the city’s workforce do not receive any paid sick days. Finger pointing by advocates of the bill supports the idea that a lack of paid sick days contributes to poor health outcomes, the spread of contagious disease and lower productivity from workers.

The Community Service Society of New York (CSS), a 160 year-old institution whose focus is on fighting poverty and advancing public policy innovations for low-income New Yorkers says that workers without paid sick days are more likely to go to work when they are ill and also send their kids to school sick.

Proponents say that when workers without sick leave are faced with decisions about taking off from work, it is not their health that is the biggest contributing factor in their decision. Co-sponsor Councilmember Eric Ulrich says that people are going to work sick because they cannot afford to lose the day’s pay, perhaps even their job. “In times like these, people deserve the peace of mind and know that their hard work merits time off when they are sick,” Ulrich said, “Despite objections, this is not an entitlement. It’s time off that workers must earn.”

While small business owners say they understand the dilemma of employees, they are facing another set of challenges. Carl Hum, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce expressed his views in a statement written on behalf of the 5 Boro Alliance, a coalition of Chambers throughout the five boroughs that is strongly opposed to the legislation.

“In response to the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s, many businesses, big and small, have already cut overhead, payroll and services. Add to that increased taxes (including the new mobility tax on payrolls to support the cash-poor Metropolitan Transportation Authority), increased water and electricity rates, and additional fines and fees, and it becomes clear why New York City is renowned for being a difficult and costly place to do business.”

Hum concluded by saying that the coalition’s real objection to the bill is not that employees do not deserve paid sick time. It is the “broad-stroke” approach that would mandate the business community under such legislation and remove all flexibility from business owners.

Now the city council seeks to enact a measure that has proven successful in other cities, namely San Francisco, where initial objections were similar to those being bantered about among New Yorkers. Prior to the enactment of the bill in San Francisco there were almost 120,000 workers without paid sick leave. Now, with the paid days in place, many of the business groups and skeptics who opposed the bill admit that it has posed very few problems for their members.

According to a report released by the Drum Major Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank, the industry most affected by the new mandate in San Francisco, restaurant and hospitality businesses, saw strong growth relative to other counties in the region.

Although it is expected that the bill will be amended to include a lesser number of sick days than the nine originally proposed, the urgency of any inclusive measure is heightened by the infiltration of the swine flu.

“If we make serious considerations about the people most affected by this bill,” says Ulrich, “it is a sector of the workforce comprised of employees that have more public contact than any other.” Ulrich says that the restaurant and hotel workers have the largest potential to impact public health by coming to work sick. He also added that the same people would likely be the ones faced with the decision of having to send their sick children to school or daycare so they wouldn’t have to lose the day at work.

The city council's Civil Service and Labor Committee held a hearing on Intro.1059 back in November. A final vote has not been scheduled to be taken.

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