Since 2010, New York City’s earned sick leave initiative has been debated but never passed, largely thanks to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D) refusal to allow a vote. Now, with her hat firmly in the ring for the 2013 mayoral race, Quinn is hinting that she might wind up putting her weight behind the bill. But it isn’t yet clear what concessions might be made, and it’s possible the policy might be seriously “watered-down,” in order to get her support.
Currently, New York’s paid sick leave proposal would require companies with five or more employees to provide five paid sick days a year; for companies with fewer than five people, sick leave would be required, but unpaid. Here is why it’s important that Quinn support a serious, comprehensive piece of paid sick leave legislation, and not let the bill get watered down:
1. It’s good for business. At first impression, paid sick leave might sound like a loss for employers — paying people not to come to work — but it’s actually good financially for a company. When people come to work sick, they spread illness, getting other employees sick and thus leading to an even bigger loss in producitvity. Sick employees are also less productive and stay sick longer when they don’t take time off.
2. Sick leave doesn’t kill jobs. Quinn has said she supported the paid sick leave initiative, but wanted to wait until the economy had recovered in New York. But it’s a debunked theory that paid sick causes job loss, and there’s some indication that proper regulations can actually spur job growth. After paid sick leave passed in San Francisco, the city actually saw significant job growth.
3. Sick workers are a public health risk. About 40 percent of private sector workers in the US lack paid sick leave, and 80 percent of low-income and food workers are among that group. Food workers and service industry workers who come into work sick are a hazard for public health. Look, for example, at the additional 5 million cases of swine flu that can be attributed to people sick on the job.
4. It’s a family-friendly policy. Single parents are the most likely to have no paid leave, and often have the responsibility of caring for a sick child on their own. Single moms are more likely to live in poverty and have less job stability. For them, sick days can make a huge difference. As Center for American Progress policy analyst Sarah Jane Glynn has previously points out, “A single mother with no paid sick days, working full-time earning $10 an hour (the average wage for a worker without paid sick days), would fall below the poverty line if her child caught a bad case of the flu and she had to miss three days of work without pay.”
It’s likely that Christine Quinn has just woken up to the fact that opposing paid sick leave could be a politically toxic move. But Quinn has also gotten herself the reputation, much like that of her possible predecessor Mayor Mike Bloomberg, of being a supporter of hyper-efficiency in the name of business. If the pro-worker policy of paid sick leave doesn’t appeal to her on its humanitarain grounds, then she should at least support it for the good of her city’s businesses.