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New York Council Speaker Opposes Mandatory Paid Sick Days

October 21, 2010
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Asserting that passage of a bill mandating paid sick days could have a crushing effect on small businesses in a down economy, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Oct. 14 that she is opposed to the legislation.

Quinn’s long-awaited decision means the bill is unlikely to get to the Council floor for a vote anytime this year. It’s a major setback for a Working Families Party-led coalition that had made passage of the paid sick days bill a top priority, although the coalition vowed to press on with its efforts.

The speaker said attempts to reach a compromise between proponents and opponents of the measure failed, as the supporters would not give ground on “their core goal” that the bill cover all workers in New York City. She said a study by her office showed the bill would cost businesses between $700 and $1,200 a year per worker, adding up to thousands of dollars a year for small businesses.

“At a time like this, those thousands of dollars could be the breaking point for a small business owner already stretched too thin,” she said. “I had to make a choice given the moment we’re in.”

A coalition of the city’s five chambers of commerce had called for an overhaul of Councilwoman Gale Brewer’s proposal that would require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide nine paid sick days per year and smaller ones to give five.

Like Quinn, the chambers argued that the bill would squelch job growth or even put small businesses out of business.

“Given all of the time and effort spent trying to address the issue, it’s really important to us that Speaker Quinn took our concerns into consideration,” said Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. “We’re really pleased she recognized that this is the worst possible time to introduce such a bill.”

By blaming the recession, Quinn left the door open to revisiting the legislation once the economy improves. Brewer said the speaker promised her she would revisit the state of the economy every two months. “I’m going to keep on pushing,” Brewer said. “I’m always in everything for the long haul.”

Since the proposal has overwhelming support, with 35 co-sponsors, Brewer could conceivably force a vote over the speaker’s opposition, but she said she’d prefer to work toward a bill that both the speaker and small businesses could support.

The Council’s Progressive Caucus released a written statement saying it would continue to push for passage of the bill.

Brewer rejected the speaker’s notion that supporters were not willing to compromise, saying they had been discussing “major” changes to the number of sick days companies would have to provide and the size of businesses that would have to provide them. A spokesman for the Working Families Party also said proponents were willing to make amendments.

“We were willing to compromise on almost every aspect of the bill, but were not willing to do something that was a completely different bill,” he said. “The need for this legislation is not going away, and neither are we.”

Meanwhile, Quinn denied that her decision was part of a continued attempt to burnish her business credentials for a potential 2013 run for mayor.

“I made a decision that was not easy based on the requirements of the job,” she said. “That’s all I’m thinking about. This is not a decision relevant in my mind to any future race.”  

Filed by Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

 

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