The City Council is expected to approve unpaid sick time
A national push for paid sick days is poised to score a significant victory, with lawmakers in the nation's largest city set to vote on requiring businesses to provide the benefit to an estimated 1 million workers who don't have it now.
The City Council was expected to OK that Wednesday, while also approving unpaid sick time for another roughly 300,000 workers. A mayoral veto is expected, but so is an override.
Advocates see the measure as a watershed, although it has some significant limits and conditions. The city would be the most populous place to approve such a law during a campaign that has scored several victories but also a number of defeats.
"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 germs from spreading from coughing, sneezing employees 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 government should let bosses and employees work out sick time arrangements on their own.
It will "hurt small businesses and stifle job creation," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 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.
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.
Some advocates have pushed for having all the workers get paid leave. Workers could choose to work extra hours instead of taking sick time. That provision that could be attractive to those who would rather swap shifts than call in sick - like restaurant servers, who might not want to forgo tips.
Paid sick time measures have been approved in Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut.
But the Wisconsin Legislature blocked a voter-approved Milwaukee paid sick time requirement, Denver voters rejected one, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed one last month; an override attempt failed.