In a significant victory amid a push for paid sick time laws around the country, city lawmakers voted Wednesday to make businesses provide the benefit to an estimated one million workers who don’t have it now.
Saying they hoped that requiring sick leave in the nation’s largest metropolis would set an example, City Council members positioned New York to become the most populous place to approve such a law during a campaign that has scored several victories but also a number of defeats. A mayoral veto is expected, but so is an override.
Advocates see the measure as a signal accomplishment, although it has some significant limits and conditions.
“It’s very important that it’s happening in the biggest city,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work, which promotes paid sick time initiatives around the country.
Supporters see paid sick time as a basic matter of working conditions, akin to a minimum wage, and a way to stop coughing, sneezing employees from spreading germs to their colleagues and customers. The New York measure’s sponsor, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, says it’s about “a workplace that is safe, fair and respectful of the lives of workers.”
Critics say some small enterprises can’t afford the benefit and businesses resent the implication that they’re forcing ailing employees to come in to work and creating a public health problem.
Government should let bosses and employees work out sick time arrangements on their own, they say.
“These are sort of one-size-fits-all policies that don’t work well in many industries,” said Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, a research group.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg complained that the measure would “hurt small businesses and stifle job creation” in a statement in March, when advocates reached an agreement on the measure with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. She had declined for three years to bring the proposal to a vote, but she came under increasing pressure to support it this year, when she’s also is campaigning for mayor.
Employees of businesses with 20 or more workers would get up to five paid sick days a year beginning in April 2014; the benefit would kick in by October 2015 at enterprises with 15 to 19 workers. All others would have to provide five unpaid sick days per year, meaning that workers couldn’t get fired for using those days.
Manufacturing companies would be exempt because they’re struggling, Quinn said.