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Queens Chronicle

Sick leave bill a hot topic in NYC Council, mayoral race

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Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:11 am, Thu Apr 4, 2013.

Efforts to legislate how much sick leave most employers in the city must provide to workers were renewed over the last week as lawmakers held a hearing on the bill and two mayoral hopefuls blasted opponent Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, for blocking the measure for the last three years.

The measure would require smaller companies to provide employees with five paid sick days a year and larger firms to give them nine. Violators would face fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and be liable to lawsuits for 18 months after denying sick leave.

Though the bill was co-sponsored by 37 of the Council’s 51 members when introduced in 2010, Quinn (D-Manhattan) has used her power as speaker to keep it from coming up for a vote, saying it would impose too great a burden on businesses at a time when the economy is weak. Other critics say it would be an illegitimate government intrusion into private business in good times or bad.

Proponents say it is only fair to require that workers be given time off when they or their family members are sick, and that forcing people to come to work when they are ill reduces productivity and spreads contagions such as the flu. Advocates have periodically held rallies featuring people who say they lost their jobs due to illness, and cite studies of the impact of similar bills in other cities and states that claim they do not hurt businesses.

A hearing on the bill was held last Friday, and NY 1 reported on Tuesday that a deadline to reach a compromise on an amended version has been set for this Friday. The new proposal reportedly would raise the threshold for companies subject to the law from those with at least five employees to those with at least 10.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who along with Quinn, City Comptroller John Liu and former Comptroller Bill Thompson is a leading Democratic candidate for mayor, criticized raising the threshold to 10 employees, saying that would leave out 164,000 workers covered under the original plan. Raising it to 50 would leave out 685,000.

“We don’t need ‘Paid Sick Leave-Lite,’” de Blasio said in a prepared statement. “And we won’t allow hundreds of thousands of hardworking people to be denied a fundamental right because of political expediency.”

Thompson also blasted Quinn, saying last week she has blocked the bill “with an iron fist,” according to The New York Times.

Among the bill’s opponents is Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who penned an op-ed against it in the March 21 New York Post. Gennaro said the revised bill would not provide any support to businesses bearing increased costs and would be “a litigator’s dream.”

Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) “has serious doubts about the bill” due to the risk of hurting businesses and killing jobs, according to his spokesman, Kevin Ryan. But Halloran did issue a press release noting that he was the only Council member who stayed for the entire hearing last Friday. “On this critical issue, shouldn’t we all listen to both sides before going back to the same rhetoric?” he asked, saying that if someone goes to the trouble of testifying before the government, the government should take the time to listen.

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