Featured Content

Give New Yorkers Paid Sick Days

July 19, 2012

Fears over harm to city economy are misguided


For many women in New York City, the idea of electing a female mayor, thus shattering one of the loftiest glass ceilings, is a tantalizing prospect. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has her eye on that goal.

But we must consider not just how high women are able to rise, but also what life is like for the vast majority of working women — those outside the limelight.

On one of the most pressing issues facing women in the labor force, Quinn has proven surprisingly tone-deaf: paid sick days.

Nearly a million working people in New York lack paid sick days. Most are women in low-wage, service sector jobs. They are waitresses, cashiers and home health aides. Many are immigrants; few have political clout. Yet their work contributes to the economic growth of the city.

For these workers, an unexpected bout of the flu means missing desperately needed pay, while a child’s health emergency could cost them their jobs.

Especially in these difficult times, no one should be forced to choose between their family’s health and their income. And the last thing our fragile economy needs is people getting fired just for getting sick.

If you have paid sick days, it can be easy to take them for granted. But just imagine what it would be like to lack the basic security that they provide.

You wake up feeling nauseous, with a pounding headache. But rent is looming, so you take a few pills and head to work, because you can’t afford to lose a day’s wages. You know you shouldn’t: You’ll only make yourself sicker or even spread illness to co-workers or customers. But there’s no choice.

At lunchtime, you get a call: Your child is throwing up at school. She’s got the same thing you do, but worse. Can you come pick her up? Of course you can’t. If you walk out before the shift is over, you might not have a job to return to tomorrow.

This story, unfortunately, isn’t a rare one. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of working mothers will miss work when a child is sick. Of those, half lose pay.

Even worse, nearly one in four workers reports that they have lost a job or were told they would lose their job if they took time off due to personal or family illness, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

A proposal to allow those workers to earn paid sick days is currently languishing in the City Council. The bill would provide a desperately needed measure of economic security for some of the city’s most vulnerable workers, protect jobs and also ensure flexibility for small businesses.

While mom-and-pops would be exempt, businesses with more than five employees would have to provide at least five sick days.

Similar proposals have been enacted — with great success — in San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut. Economies there did not collapse.

Polling finds that 74% of New Yorkers support the paid sick days bill, and it has supermajority Council support.

Quinn, however, has blocked the bill, claiming that it would saddle businesses with greater costs — even though the requirement is modest and has shown to lead to long-term savings.

The fear-mongering is misplaced — a 2011 study of San Francisco’s paid leave found that it was good for that city’s economy. As one business owner told The Christian Science Monitor, “It’s made a highly positive impact on staff morale. I think it’s a win-win situation for employees and employers.”

It’s time for New York to also take this step. We hope that as Quinn runs for mayor, she will recognize that passing the paid sick leave bill is both humane and sound policy.

Hundreds of thousands of hardworking women and men, not to mention the health of our economy, are counting on it.

Poo is the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Knox is an activist and writer.