A spirited January 18 rally and press conference on the steps of New York’s City Hall demonstrated broad support and enthusiasm for the passage of a newly-amended Paid Sick Time bill. The bill introduced by Council Member Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, and supported by a veto-proof majority of Council members, would ensure that 1.5 million New Yorkers presently without access to paid sick days would be able to take time off when they or their family members are ill.
Brewer stressed that paid sick days is both a moral and public health issue. “Making sure that people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick is critical to keeping our city healthy,” she declared as she opened the press conference.
Council Member Julissa Ferreras, a bill co-sponsor, spoke about the economic benefits of the bill, saying, “Paid sick time is a small measure that can have an immediate impact on business productivity, can reduce unemployment and strengthen financial security for families who desperately need relief.”
“We’ve decided that it’s time to become much more active in the fight for this important legislation,” declared 1199SEIU VP Coraminita Mahr at the press conference. Mahr filled in for President George Gresham, who earlier in the month wrote an Amsterdam News editorial urging passage of the Paid Sick Days bill.
“As a healthcare workers’ union, we are committed to the fight for healthy workers, healthy families and a healthy New York,” Mahr said. “This is a vital public health issue. We’re deeply concerned about the safety of our schools, restaurants and public facilities. Passage of the bill would also benefit about 20,000 of our recently-organized homecare members.”
1199SEIU homecare members were among the New York Paid Sick Leave coalition members who stood on the City Hall steps and hoisted banners and placards behind the press conference speakers. “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) chanted the coalition members.
The rally speakers, reflecting the coalition’s breadth and influence, included Vinny Alvarez, president of New York’s Central Labor Council; David R. Jones, president of the Community Service Society of New York; Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party; and members of the religious, civil rights and immigrant rights organizations.
“I’m here to give you a doctor’s perspective,” said Dr. L. Toni Lewis, chair of SEIU Health Care and former president of the Committee of Interns and Residents. “Passing the Paid Sick Leave bill is not just good for the 1.5 million workers who will gain that extra security. It’s good for the health of all New Yorkers.”
The press conference also outlined important amendments to last year’s bill that addresses the concerns of small businesses, among them, exemptions for businesses with fewer than five employees and a one-year grace period for new businesses.
Coalition partners hope the amendments will convince City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
Edgar Andrade, owner of Wyckoff 99 cent and Hardware in Brooklyn, spoke at the press conference for small-business owners. “I support this bill because it’s about keeping our community healthy,” he said. “By providing paid time off, I build loyalty with my staff. It’s an investment that repays me ten times over.”
Perhaps the most important speaker was Augustina Velez, a Queens kitchen assistant and a member of the immigrant rights organization Make the Road New York. She stepped to the microphone holding her child and, speaking through a translator, described how a coworker was fired from her restaurant job for leaving an hour early to care for a sick child.
“My job as a kitchen assistant is important,” Velez said. “But I also have a more important job – being a mother. I should not have to choose between the two. And many working mothers face this same problem. I urge the City Council to pass this bill so that they won’t have to choose.”