The following is testimony delivered by Nancy Rankin, CSS's Vice President of Policy Research and Advocacy, before the New York City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor at a February 14, 2014 hearing on Int 0001-2014, the “Earned Sick Time Act.”
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of the expansion of the city’s paid sick time act to cover hundreds of thousands of additional working New Yorkers. We applaud the Mayor, the Speaker and Council Member Chin for building on the landmark legislation passed last year under the tireless leadership of Gale Brewer.
My name is Nancy Rankin. I am Vice President for Policy Research at the Community Service Society of New York, a 170 year-old organization that works to advance upward mobility for low-income New Yorkers. I led the research that first identified the widespread lack of sick leave among our city’s low-wage workers, 72 percent of whom do not have a single paid sick day according to our 2013 Unheard Third Survey.
As a New Yorker and the daughter of a small business owner, I understand the concerns of business. But I am also here as the granddaughter of an immigrant owner of a hat store, who went to work in a hat factory during the Great Depression to keep my mom’s family afloat, and was tragically killed as a result of an industrial fire. So I also understand that there are times when government has a necessary role in setting minimum labor standards. Requiring paid sick time is one of them.
The proposed changes to cover employers under 20 sooner and lower the threshold for paid sick days from employers of 15 or more to 5 or more are so important because it is precisely the workers in smaller businesses who are the ones least likely to have access to paid sick time now. In our 2013 Unheard Third survey, CSS found that 64 percent of workers employed by businesses with fewer than 15 workers lack paid sick days compared to 38 percent of those in larger firms. The original law, while a huge step forward at the time, would have left out more than a quarter of workers who needed paid sick time.
Covering smaller businesses is also important because low-wage workers are more likely than higher-earners to work for small businesses. And these are the workers for whom losing a few days’ pay can mean not filling a prescription, not buying milk for the kids, or falling behind in the rent.
A more inclusive application of the law is also good public policy, fairer not just for workers but for businesses. It ensures that employers have to play by the same rules and one business is not at a competitive disadvantage simply because it employs a few more workers. We know from solid economic research by Arin Dube, Alan Krueger, David Card and others and the experience of other localities that already have paid sick days laws in effect that small increases, like sick pay or a rise in the minimum wage, do not have a negative impact on jobs. Once a law creates a level playing field, most employers find that these small costs can easily be absorbed through minor adjustments in operations, prices, or compensation.
In short, a paid sick days law will not be detrimental to businesses or the economy for the reasons I just outlined. In fact, providing greater financial stability for working families helps neighborhood businesses grow. What drives the shoe store owner to hire the next worker or open the next shop is not cutting government regulations, but a long line of customers at the cash register who can afford to buy new shoes.
The proposed expansion will also benefit employers by creating a healthier, safer workforce. A 2013 study by University of Pittsburgh researchers found that allowing employees with influenza to stay home for one or two days reduced workplace infections by 25 percent and 39 percent respectively. In another recent study, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that workers with access to paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to be injured on the job.
We estimate that the expanded law will provide a legal right to paid sick leave for over 400,000 workers, including 355,000 employed in firms between 5 and under 15 and another 55,000 in manufacturing (in firms of 15 or more) who will no longer be exempted. When we add those who will gain a right to paid sick leave sooner, we are talking about half a million workers. That includes more than 300,000 who now lack a single paid sick day. The 225,000 workers in workplaces under five will gain job protection, so they will no longer need to fear being fired or punished for being out sick a few days. However it will leave about 133,000 workers without paid leave. They should be covered in the future.
The Community Service Society stands with the mayor and speaker in their efforts to create a more stable and healthier workforce, especially for low-income workers who are still struggling to get by at a time when wages remain flat while the costs of living in the city continue to rise. We are pleased to have played a role in advancing the paid sick leave law through our research and advocacy.