Earned Sick Days for Workers – Will the idea catch on?

Legacies. If or when elected officials think about how their constituents will remember them once they’re out of office, what thoughts cross their minds? Do they think about how they could have left their jurisdictions better than they found them? Do they give thought to how they could have reached back a little bit more to help those who were most in need of their support? And, for that matter, is it possible that we will ever reach a point when elected officials realise that working people should matter to them at least as much as their corporate sponsors?

Some of us are hopeful that a nudge in the right direction can have positive results.

Christine QuinnMeet Christine Quinn. Ms. Quinn is the Speaker of the New York City Council and, seemingly, the heir-apparent to the NYC mayor’s seat currently held by Michael Bloomberg. If things remain as they are, Ms. Quinn’s claim to fame won’t be the fact that she’s the first openly gay council speaker and prospective mayor of one if the nation’s largest cities but, instead, her legacy will be that she didn’t help and, in fact, blocked her constituents who need earned sick days from receiving them.

Currently, for more than a million residents of New York who do not have paid sick days, suffering an illness means losing out on a pay check at best and a job at worst.

Tomorrow, March 22nd, a hearing that comes on the heels of seemingly endless back-and-forth public hearings on the issue of earned sick days for workers will be held. Speaker Quinn has scheduled a public hearing for a paid sick time bill. It’s unfortunate that the hearing had to come as the result of intense pressure from activist groups and the service workers themselves.

The City Council has proposed legislation that would allow New Yorkers at least five paid sick days a year and, surprisingly for New York — a city in which everyone has a least three opinions on every subject —  a veto-proof majority of her colleagues support the bill. What’s odd is that it has been Quinn who has kept the ordinance which affects predominantly low income New Yorkers from passing; she has continued to refuse to bring the matter to a vote. Her actions to date have resulted in the denial of even a single paid sick day to care for themselves or a sick child to more than 1 million low-wage workers.

Ms. Quinn knows that more than half of workers who handle food and 43 percent of workers who care for children or the elderly do not have paid sick time. Quinn has a history of supporting public health initiatives; she’s supported Mayor Micheal Bloomberg’s efforts to ban public smoking, rid restaurants of trans fats, and get calorie counts listed on restaurant menus. But Quinn is running for mayor, and that apparently means bending to the will of the business community if they’re to support her campaign. And what they want is to keep the status quo; they will tell everyone who will listen that fair pay and paid sick days will hurt the bottom line of their businesses. Same old excuse from the ‘job creators’. The fact is that the costs to businesses providing paid sick leave are much lower than the healthcare, training, and other costs that increases when the labour force is sick. That should be common sense. Pay now or pay later.

On March 14th, the Philadelphia City Council voted on an earned sick days ordinance. The measure passed just one vote short of a veto-proof majority so it gives New York and other cities precedence to follow. Measures have already passed in cities such as Portland, Oregon, and efforts are underway across the nation to make corrections to an economy that should value hard work.

If she wanted to, she could have voted already to support and provide relief to New York’s workers by at least allowing a vote on the Paid Sick Time Earned by Employees Act. Let’s hope she does the right thing.

After all, the wealthy elites in New York aren’t the only people who cast a vote.