Let’s Extend Paid Sick Leave to All Workers

David R. Jones, La Nueva Mayoria / The New Majority

Last month, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took a bold step to try to narrow the economic inequality gap so evident in New York City with their joint proposal to expand the “Earned Sick Time Act” requiring businesses of five or more employees to provide five paid sick days a year.  The act currently covers businesses with 20 or more employees.

Amending the paid sick leave law to cover more of the city’s smaller businesses is critical because employees of these businesses are the ones who most often lack access to even one paid sick day.  Low-wage earners are more likely than higher paid workers to be employed in small businesses. 

The City Council’s action in passing a paid sick leave bill last year means that New York will soon join San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and the state of Connecticut, all of which have adopted paid sick leave legislation. 

It took years of negotiations and compromise, but the great majority of New York’s workers will no longer have to choose between taking care of a sick child at home and losing a job or a paycheck.  Nearly three quarters of low-income Latino workers in the city didn’t have paid sick leave.

But since the new law will initially cover only businesses with 20 or more employees, the latest data from our Unheard Third annual survey shows that, as now written, it effectively leaves out thousands of low-wage workers.

The Community Service Society advocated long and hard for a paid sick leave law.  Our Unheard Third surveys first revealed the widespread lack of paid sick time among low-wage workers and have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers in all income groups supported a law requiring employers to provide sick pay.  We continue to push for expansion of the law because all workers need and deserve this fundamental protection. 

A more inclusive application of the law is good public policy.  It ensures that all employers will have to play by the same rules, thereby discouraging unfair competition.  It is also good for public health.  Extending the law will protect more workers from being forced to come to work sick, jeopardizing their health as well as the health of customers, co-workers, and commuters.

Sections of the business community and conservative publications are already complaining.  They advance the usual tired and discredited argument - such a law would harm small businesses and drive away employers.  But I don’t think that the local restaurant or hardware store is going to relocate to New Jersey or Westchester County.

We know from speaking with small businesses and economists alike that providing paid sick leave to workers generates cost savings, including greater employee morale, decreased turnover, and reduced workplace contagion and accidents.  San Francisco, which was the first municipality to mandate paid sick leave for all workers, has determined that it has had no adverse effects on jobs.  A new study of Connecticut’s law shows the same thing.

The Community Service Society applauds the mayor and speaker for their efforts to create a more stable and healthier workforce for low-income workers who are still struggling to get by at a time when wages remain flat and the costs associated with living in the city continue to rise.  We are also pleased to have played a role in advancing the paid sick leave law through our research and advocacy. 

By expanding the law to include businesses with five or more employees, we will ensure paid sick leave to 360,000 more working New Yorkers.

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