Political ambitions, petty class loyalties and runaway greed can never justify what happened to Celina Álvarez.
“I liked my job because I love to be a cook, cooking is my life,” said Álvarez, 48, who came from her native Michoacán, Mexico, two years ago and, until last February, worked at Taquería El Ídolo, in Corona, Queens. That’s when she was diagnosed with a grave heart condition that required hospitalization.
“I was in the hospital for five days and then needed 15 days of complete rest,” said the Corona resident . “When I recovered enough to go back to work, the manager told me there was no more work for me. The hospital stay saved my life, but cost me my job.”
Álvarez attended rally Tuesday in support of paid sick days outside the 91-07 Corona Ave. restaurant that threw her into the street when she became gravely ill.
Among those who attended the demonstration included: City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst); Amalia Cisneros, owner of Centro Naturista Amalia’s; Elmhurst small business owners and low-wage workers in addition to members of Make the Road New York.
Currently, in New York City, one of the world’s richest cities, more than 1 million employees — many of whom work in food service, retail and health care — don’t get paid if they call in sick. Even worse, as happened to Álvarez, they can be fired.
The statistics are appalling. Nearly 64% of low-income workers lacked paid sick time in 2011. For Hispanics, that number jumped to 76%.
This situation represents a risk not only to the financial security and health of workers, but also to their families and the public.
Many of these employees work in food services and are public school parents. Obviously, if they or their children get sick they should stay home. But without paid sick days that would mean losing income or their jobs.
They are forced to choose between their job and their health. That’s why the City Council must pass ASAP the Paid Sick Days Act introduced by Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) in 2009 and in 2010 .
The recently amended legislation is supported by most New Yorkers and already has 37 sponsors, enough to override the veto Mayor Bloomberg — not a great friend of low-wage workers — has threatened.
The bill would require employers to provide a modest amount of paid sick time for workers . Mom-and-pop stores (those with five employees or less) would only have to give workers five days sick leave per year without pay and could not fire them for being ill. Businesses with more than 20 employees would have to give their workers nine days sick leave.
Not surprisingly, the chambers of commerce oppose the bill. They argue it would place too much of a financial burden on small businesses.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has mayoral ambitions, shares that position and has refused to allow a vote.
But as yesterday’s rally organizers said, New York cannot afford to wait any longer . “Paid sick days is a common sense policy for our city and our economy that protects family economic security and public health,” they stated.
Álvarez message is much more personal.
“I support the Paid Sick Days bill because no worker should go through what I am going trough,” she said. “They should be paid if they get sick and not be afraid of losing their job.”
“I urge the City Council to act in the name of the thousands of workers who can’t afford even to get sick in New York City,” Álvarez added.