Mayor de Blasio Delivers for Low-Wage Workers

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

Much of the talk in New York this week is about the upcoming Super Bowl.  Going to the Super Bowl is primarily for the wealthy – or those lucky enough to have corporate sponsors pay their way.  The average price for a Super Bowl ticket is now almost $3,500.  What about the other end of the wage scale – low-wage workers?  There won’t be many of them at the game (except for those selling food and drinks), but they are working hard as thousands of fans converge on the city.

Many low-wage workers are doing the drudge work – hard, menial, and monotonous - that most of us don’t even think about as we go through our day, cleaning, washing, cooking, serving.  A large number of them are without employee benefits, including paid sick leave.

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.  More than half of low-income black workers and nearly three quarters of low-income Latino workers in the city didn’t have paid sick leave. 

But the new law will initially cover only businesses with 20 or more employees.  This leaves hundreds of thousands of low-wage working New Yorkers out in the cold.

Expanding the Law

Last week, Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito took bold steps to improve the law 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.

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.  And low-wage earners are more likely than higher paid workers to be employed in small businesses.  The latest data from our Unheard Third annual survey shows that the law as now written effectively leaves out more than one-third of workers in the city.

Overwhelming Support

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 and protecting more workers from being forced to come to work sick, jeopardizing their health, that of customers, co-workers, and commuters.

I can already hear the complaints from parts of the business community and local conservative publications.  It will be the usual tired and discredited argument: such a law would harm small businesses and drive away employers.  Really?  Will the local restaurant or hardware store relocate to New Jersey?  No, I don’t think so.

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. 

Now let’s expand the law and ensure paid sick leave to 360,000 more working New Yorkers.


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