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Queens Chronicle

Sick leave bill holds both promise and concern

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Thu Feb 27, 2014.

It’s flu season. One of the last things you want to see is the guy making your sandwich down at the deli coughing and wiping his nose, gloves or no gloves. And yet there’s a decent chance that’s exactly what you’ll see.

One reason is that a small business such as a deli is not as likely as a large corporation to provide its employees with paid sick leave. So many come to work even when they’re unwell, increasing the chances that colds or worse illnesses such as the flu will spread.

Mayor de Blasio and the new City Council are determined to give those employees the opportunity to stay home without losing a day’s pay or being fired for not coming in. So with the exception of the two Republican members from Staten Island, the only dissenters so far, the Council members are rushing through two pieces of legislation that together will mandate paid sick leave for all workers at all companies with five or more employees.

The measures are all but guaranteed to become law. The first, a set of amendments to the existing sick leave bill passed last year, flew through the Council early this month by a tally of 49-2, with Ozone Park Republican Eric Ulrich joining the body’s 48 Democrats in support.

The second component, Intro-1, was the subject of a hearing Feb. 14 before the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, which is chaired by Councilman Daneek Miller of St. Albans. Its designation as Intro-1, the first proposed law of the year, marks how important the bill is to de Blasio and most City Council members.

The two pieces of legislation together will essentially toss aside the sick leave law enacted last year, which was watered down at the insistence of then-Speaker Christine Quinn, who was running for mayor at the time and was always more sympathetic to the business community than the new Council leadership is.

Whereas the old version only applied to businesses with 15 or more workers, the new one will affect those with five or more. The old version was going to be phased in over time, with the biggest companies hit by the mandate first; the new one will take effect for everyone all at once, on April 1. The old one exempted the manufacturing sector; the new one does not. The old one had a provision suspending the mandate if the economy weakened, as measured by the Federal Reserve; the new one repeals that component.

We’re of two minds on this legislation. The Queens Chronicle already offers what the bill calls for, because it’s the right thing to do. And we don’t want our food prepared by someone who had to come to work despite being sick.

But we recognize the concerns of businesses, such as those voiced last week at a Civil Service and Labor Committee hearing, that the mandate will cost money. One business owner said it would cost him $700 a day per employee who calls in sick. That is a high price to pay, though the price of having an unwell worker handling his firm’s concrete and asphalt could be too.

We don’t believe the Council will be willing to amend Intro-1 in any way, given the body’s overwhelming liberal majority and the value de Blasio places on the bill. But this weather has been devastating to many small businesses, such as restaurants that people aren’t going to because they don’t want to drive, and many others as well. Maybe in recognition of that, the mayor and Council could delay implementation of the bill, say to July 1, the start of the next fiscal year for the city. If President Obama can delay some key components of his signature bill, the Affordable Care Act, maybe de Blasio would be willing to do the same with a measure that’s equally important to him.

Welcome to the discussion.