Hundreds of thousands of workers in New York City are poised to get paid sick days in what may prove a pivotal moment in a national debate over whether businesses should be required to provide them.
After reaching a deal that could affect about 1 million workers in settings ranging from restaurants to construction sites, city Council Speaker Christine Quinn, union leaders and business groups lauded it Friday as a plan that met both workers’ needs and employers’ concerns. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it bad for business and vowed a veto, which the council is expected to override.
Though New York’s measure isn’t the first or farthest-reaching, worker advocates say it could be a turning point because of its sweep and stature.
“It’s a real step forward for our country because of the significance of New York City, the number of workers this supports and the fact that this creates momentum around the country,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, one of the groups pushing the paid-sick-time cause nationwide.
New York City is more populous than the five other cities and one state that have approved such laws, and the sick-days campaign here drew in such high-wattage supporters as feminist Gloria Steinem and “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon. The pact in New York follows council votes just this month to approve paid-sick-leave laws in Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia, though it’s unclear whether Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will sign the measure there.
Proponents portray sick time as a matter of both working conditions and public health, and they see the recent developments as a welcome upswing after some setbacks in recent years. Dan Cantor, national executive director of the left-leaning Working Families Party, calls the agreement in New York “a booster shot for the paid-sick-days movement.”
But critics — including New York’s billionaire businessman-turned-mayor — say government should leave sick-time arrangements to workers and bosses. The requirement could hamper small businesses and hinder job growth while unemployment remains high, opponents say.