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| Ensuring Paid Sick Time for All Workers, Improving Job Quality

Mayor, council declare paid sick leave 'do-over'

Crain's New York Business - January 17, 2014, by Andrew Hawkins - Acting on one of his main campaign promises just three weeks into his administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a bill to significantly expand the city's paid sick leave law to apply to businesses with as few as five employees.

Flanked by his new partner atop city government, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, as well as a majority of the city's new elected leaders, the mayor effectively declared a "do-over" on paid sick days. They will re-introduce the original bill, which lacks many of the current law's concessions that had been included by former Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the behest of the business community.

"Paid sick leave legislation works for everyone," Mr. de Blasio said, standing outside an Ecuadorian restaurant in Bushwick, in response to a reporter's question about concerns from small businesses. "It improves productivity, it improves the retention of workers, and it creates a better environment for customers."

The new bill would apply to every business in the city with five or more employees. There will be no phase-in period (the current law to take effect April 1 would only apply to businesses with 20 or more employees, and drop to a 15-employee threshold after one year), nor will it have "economic trigger" language that would delay the legislation if the economy slumps; Ms. Quinn had insisted on such a provision in the law that passed last year.

An exemption for the manufacturing sector will be removed, and grandparents, aunts and uncles will be added to the definition of family members allowed to take days off to care for ill children. The Department of Consumer Affairs will still be the enforcing agency, even though it currently lacks the capacity of a regulatory body, not to mention a commissioner appointed by Mr. de Blasio.

"This is basically the original legislation that for three years had a supermajority [in the council]," Mr. de Blasio said, referring to a veto-proof majority.

Ms. Mark-Viverito, fresh off her win of the speaker's race, said there would be committee hearings, but seemed to imply that there had been enough debate already.

"There was no deal struck," she said bluntly. "This is a conversation that has been going on for many years."

There was some grumbling from Republicans in the City Council. Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio said the bill was "well-intentioned," but questioned the timing of the announcement.

"Ultimately we're putting an additional imposition on small business," he said. "And it's just going to force small businesses to reduce their workforce."

Mr. de Blasio said that with the passage of the new bill, paid sick leave benefits will be extended to an additional 355,000 workers in the city, mostly in the retail and food-service industries.

Business groups that for years fought the bill seemed resigned in their reactions that a new progressive era had descended on city government. The Manhattan and Brooklyn chambers of commerce both released statements applauding the mayor and City Council for addressing the needs of workers in New York.

"We do continue to be concerned with the costs of doing business in New York City and the burdens placed on the backs of the small business owners," said Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan chamber.

Michael Weber, co-chair of the Hospitality Practice Group at Littler Mendelson, the nation's largest labor and employment law firm, echoed that sentiment.

"It makes it even more difficult for small businesses to be profitable and to be competitive," he said of the bill.

But James Copeland, director of the Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy, said the measure would still ban employees from taking private legal action against their employers.

"In other words, you're going to require that there be an administrative action, not to get private lawyers suing businesses on this stuff," he said. "That's actually better than some other cities that have this type of legislation."

Mr. de Blasio argued that other cities with similar laws experienced no negative ramifications. "What we've seen in Seattle, San Francisco, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, more recently Philadelphia—all over the country you see this consistent movement where states and localities are moving in this direction because it's been proven to work," he said.

But in San Francisco, which has a universal paid sick leave law, studies suggest the impact has strained some businesses. According to a study conducted in 2011 by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, almost one third of businesses affected by the ordinance had some difficulty administering the changes and roughly 14% saw a marked decrease in their profitability after implementation.

Still, Mr. de Blasio boasted that New York's law would be "the strongest in the nation," and said that this and other policies signaled a new direction for City Hall.

"This City Hall is going to be on the side of working families," he said.