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By Bertha Lewis, President of the Black Institute and Daisy Chung, Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York

Can we really say that the issue of paid sick leave has been resolved when hundreds of thousands of workers aren’t covered? We don’t think so! 

A few weeks ago, a final agreement on the paid sick days legislation was made between the NYC Paid Sick Days Coalition and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. While a City Council vote is still required to make it into law, as of last week, the issue was slated to be voted on in the Council, where the bill has veto-proof majority support. 

However, the new compromise, which exempts establishments with less than 20 employees in the first year and those with less than 15 employees 18 months later (and completely carves out the manufacturing sector), will exclude 300,000 workers. Additionally, shift workers, which include restaurant and retail workers employed by two of the fastest growing private sector employers in New York, may be denied access to paid sick days due to the bill’s “shift-swapping” provision.  

Much to our disappointment, the shift-swapping provision, which would prevent many restaurant workers and other shift workers from accessing paid sick days by forcing them to “choose” between picking up an extra shift or receiving pay for their sick day, is still in the bill. (Do low-wage workers really have a choice when their employer asks them to swap shifts instead of taking a paid sick day?) It is ironic that a bill that was fueled by the stories of sick workers preparing and serving food for millions of New Yorkers would have these very workers singled out in this way. Additionally, many of these same workers will be completely carved out by the business-size exemption, even though restaurant and retail workers come into frequent contact with other New Yorkers and can quickly spread illnesses through their everyday work. 

We cannot deny that progress has been made, but the final bill is rife with compromises that we simply cannot accept.

The hundreds of thousands of workers left behind by these compromises are in large part people of color, women and first generation immigrants who are also some of the city’s lowest paid workers. 

While we acknowledge an important policy change will result from this bill—that workers at businesses of any size will have job protection if they call out sick—the wages exempt workers will lose threaten not only their own well-being, but that of their families and the thousands of New Yorkers with whom they come in contact while working. Low-wage workers who do not receive payment for their sick day will continue to show up to work sick, because the bottom line is that they just can’t afford to stay home and miss a day’s pay. This is the reality of living from paycheck to paycheck, and isn’t this supposed to be a paid sick days bill? 

We believe these compromises were made hastily and do not constitute a fair deal for the hundreds of thousands who make up New York’s working class. We are calling for immediate action to be taken to rectify the bill so that the New Yorkers who need this the most are recognized and protected under the law. 

This negotiation was only made after the issue languished in City Hall for more than three years. We strongly believe that taking another week to re-negotiate a fair and honest compromise that would protect New York’s working class is not only the right thing to do, but also something we must do. Call your City Council member today and urge them to reconsider a bill that would include all of us.

Originally posted at the Amsterdam News

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