New York Could be a National Change Agent in the Fight for Paid Sick Leave, If Not for Christine Quinn

The battle for paid sick days in New York City is putting focus on the presumed 2013 Mayoral front runner, current Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and her refusal to allow a vote on the subject. Quinn has also not pursued a compromise.

A national movement towards requiring companies to provide sick leave for employees is brewing and cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington have all been trailblazers in that realm. If New York City were to pass such a law it would likely help momentum on the national front.

A veto-proof majority of the New York City Council supports new sick leave policies, yet progress is being obstructed by Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn, who doesn’t always agree with the Mayor. Unfortunately, she does this time.

The above map from Mother Jones shows how far behind the rest of the world the U.S. is in terms of sick leave policy.

As the 2013 Mayoral race gets closer, pressure from the public may finally force Quinn’s hand. She does not favor the currently proposed bill because she says it would put limitations on businesses during a shaky economic time. However, some onlookers note that Quinn has taken the position of her potential donors.

A new Community Service Society poll shared by the New York Daily News shows that 83% of NYC residents favor paid sick days. The same poll also shows that New Yorkers across party lines would punish a mayoral candidate who opposed required paid sick days while strongly rewarding them for supporting it.

DN writer Albor Ruiz commented on the absurdity of Quinn’s obstruction of a policy so critical to public health and popular among her potential constituency.

The truth is that currently, in our rich city, the situation is shameful: More than 1 million employees — many of whom work in food service, retail and health care — don’t get paid if they call in sick. Even worse, they can be fired.

The statistics are appalling. Nearly 64% of low-income workers lacked paid sick time in 2011, according to CSS. For Hispanics, that number jumped to 76%. This situation represents a risk not only to the financial security and health of workers, but also to their families and the public. Many of these employees work in food services and are public school parents.

Not surprisingly, the CSS poll found that 85% of Latino Democrats and 87% of black Democrats are more likely to vote for a candidate who support requiring employers to provide paid sick days.

What is most appalling about the current policy is that there are no protections set up to prevent workers from being terminated for failing to show up to work because of medical emergency. DN pointed to the example of Guillermo Barrero, a cook for seven years in a Brooklyn coffee shop who was recently fired for missing work while being rushed to the hospital. His simple answer puts the absurdity of Quinn’s obstruction into focus:

“This is the 21st century, people should not be treated like this.”

The New York Times Editorial Board agrees. In a recent piece NYT criticizes Quinn:

It is Ms. Quinn who is standing in the way. As leader of a Council that clearly wants this change, it is her duty to allow a vote or help come up with a reasonable compromise. The best answer, of course, would be a Congressional law requiring sick leave benefits for the whole country. But the city cannot wait for a national policy that could be a long time coming.

Among the current proposals that could be voted on if Quinn complied:

A bill offered by Councilwoman Gale Brewer would provide five sick days for employees of companies with 5 to 19 workers and nine sick days for bigger companies. Ms. Quinn has not brought this to a vote. A compromise proposal from Councilman Daniel Garodnick requires all companies with more than five employees to offer five paid sick leave days or flexible vacation days a year. His bill would also allow restaurant workers to “swap” shifts or take sick days, and excludes seasonal workers who are employed for less than 120 days.

The numbers are staggering and the message is clear: New Yorkers want a change in policy. Now we will see what Speaker Quinn is really made of. Will she help workers in her city while boosting important national momentum or will she bow down to the hands that hold the keys to Gracie Mansion?

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