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Paid sick days legislation a victory for people of color and working New Yorkers

H├ęctor J. Figueroa President | , 32Bj Seiu | 5/6/2013, 2:53 p.m.
Paid sick days legislation a victory for people of color and working New Yorkers

Last month, we won a huge victory for working New Yorkers across the five boroughs when we reached an agreement with Speaker Christine Quinn on a plan to provide paid sick days for close to 1 million working people who have had to choose between taking care of themselves or a loved one and missing a day's pay. This landmark bill was introduced by Councilwoman Gale Brewer and supported by a majority of council members and New Yorkers.

We as union members know how important paid sick days are: We fight for them every time our contracts are up, and we live in communities and belong to families where some of our friends and relatives do not have them.

Every day I hear stories about workers who have to make incredible sacrifices to their health or the health of a loved one because they must go to work when they are seriously ill. I am proud that the paid sick days bill will remedy this grievous situation for many of those workers and will also include the domestic workers who come in close contact with and take care of our loved ones, young and old.

A recent study by the Community Service Society found that 43 percent of all New York City residents who work lack access to paid sick days. Nowhere is this issue felt more acutely than in the Black and Latino communities. The CSS report found that some 450,000 Latino workers--almost 47 percent--do not get a single day of sick leave on their jobs, and that Latinos are the racial and ethnic group least likely to have access to paid time off.

Once this bill becomes law, employers with 20 or more employees must give their workers five sick days beginning April 1, 2014, and businesses with 15 or more employees by Oct. 1, 2015. Eventually, we hope to broaden it even further to include more workers, as the agreement allows for revisiting and expanding coverage in 2016.

This bill enjoys broad public support, as well as support from many unions, advocate groups and, yes, even business groups. The argument that paid sick days would hurt businesses doesn't hold water. Research shows that businesses that give their workers paid sick days have lower turnover and higher productivity. That's not surprising to me: It means something to workers when their employers treat them with basic respect and dignity.

But one thing you learn early on as a labor leader is that even when you win a battle, the fight always goes on. We must work to get the City Council to pass the paid sick days bill-and override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's expected veto. Then our work continues in New York City to ensure that all workers will one day be covered by paid sick day legislation. We'll do the same in Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter just vetoed a similar bill.

We've laid an incredible foundation in the biggest city in the country, and the momentum for paid sick days continues to grow across the country. Labor, small business, community and advocacy groups will continue to work together in other municipalities to spread the good news of paid sick leave.

As the late Sen. Ted Kennedy said many years ago: "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."