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Queens Chronicle

Quinn says no to paid sick leave bill

Revived efforts to amend and pass 2009 legislation at impasse, again

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Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:51 pm, Thu Mar 22, 2012.

In a statement emailed to the Chronicle on Wednesday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that she still cannot support a bill mandating paid sick days at private companies despite recently suggested amendments to the legislation, a day after a rally supporting the measure was held in Jackson Heights.

The bill is sponsored by 36 council members — a majority, and more than the two-thirds necessary to override a mayoral veto — but Quinn can decide whether or not it ever reaches the floor for a vote. When asked if her opposition means she will not bring the bill up, her office said the statement voicing her opposition “answers that.”

The measure was first introduced by Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) in 2009 and has been in committee since. Two years ago, Quinn said she couldn’t support the legislation because it would hurt the economy and small businesses, an argument she repeated at a press conference in January, at which point she said she would not comment on the amendments.

Brewer introduced the amendments to address concerns about the impact on small businesses — including excluding businesses with fewer than five employees from having to offer the proposed five days of paid sick time — but now, two months later, they haven’t changed Quinn’s mind.

“The sponsors and proponents of paid sick leave had a laudable goal,” Quinn said in the statement to the Chronicle, using exactly the same wording as she did in January. “That said, in our present economic environment, small businesses are hanging on by a thread in many cases.”

The bill “will cost us jobs and cost us small businesses and their future in these tough economic times,” Quinn added, again using the same words spoken in January.

A day earlier, at a rally held with Make the Road New York, the Working Families Party and other supporters at Terraza 7 in Jackson Heights, Brewer and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) — one of eight Queens council members sponsoring the legislation — sought to address the criticism that it would hurt small businesses. They announced the “Conscious Consumer, Conscious Business Initiative” to highlight small companies that already offer paid sick days to employees.

“We are celebrating an incredibly powerful policy that they’ve already implemented,” Ferreras said of the eight participating businesses in Jackson Heights. By encouraging consumers to frequent those businesses and “have our dollars really mean something,” Ferreras said, people could send a message: “I choose you because you believe in our community.”

Several small business owners also spoke at the rally, and all emphasized that forcing sick employees to work ultimately costs more than granting them sick time. Supporters of the paid sick days campaign have also said that it’s big businesses like fast food chains and others that are really opposed to the measure.

“The health of our workers, our consumers, our customers, is invaluable,” said Freddy Castiblanco, the owner of Terraza 7, a cafe and live music venue.

Castiblanco said he was a doctor in Colombia before he moved to the United States 10 years ago. When he opened Terraza 7 two years later, he had hoped to create “a business model that grows with its community. Not a predatory business model, but one that encourages the flourishing of the local environment.”

After the rally but before Quinn’s latest rehashing of her opposition, Brewer said she was still hopeful a compromise with the speaker could be reached.

“To her credit she said she was going to meet with us every two months to go over economic issues, and she’s kept her promise,” Brewer said. The key moving forward will be gaining the support of still more businesses as well as healthcare professionals, Brewer added.

According to a 2011 study conducted by Nancy Rankin of Community Service Society, an organization that advocates for New York City’s poor, between 1.4 and 1.6 million New Yorkers lack any paid leave whatsoever, either for sick time or vacation.

Connecticut passed a state-wide sick leave mandate last year, and cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC have passed similar legislation.

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