Monday, August 20, 2012

Paid Sick Time Act a healthy choice for city, argues City Councilwoman Diana Reyna   

Be Our Guest columnist draws distinction between public and private health matters

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 City Councilwoman Diana Reyna urges Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn to support the Paid Sick Time Act now pending in the Council.

Jefferson Segel

City Councilwoman Diana Reyna urges Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn to support the Paid Sick Time Act now pending in the Council

Mayor Bloomberg has earned a reputation as a mayor who is willing to stand up for the public’s health.
He has banned smoking in bars, and required posting of calorie counts in fast food restaurants. But his most recent effort — to regulate whether New Yorkers can drink a soda bigger than 16 ounces — gets it wrong.
What we choose to eat or drink is a matter of private, not public health.
If he really wants to protect New Yorkers’ health, he should devote his energy to supporting the Paid Sick Time Act that is pending before the City Council, instead of opposing it on the flimsy grounds that businesses can’t afford it.
Under this proposal, larger businesses would have to provide a handful of days to their employees, which they would accrue over time. These provisions would mean that 1.5 million New York City workers, who currently lack these basic workplace protections, would not need to go to work if they were sick.
Restaurant workers would be able to sneeze at home instead of in kitchens throughout the city. Parents who could not afford childcare would be able to stay home to care for sick children, instead of sending them to school sick. And contagious workers would no longer be crowded into the subways when they should be home resting.
These are scenarios that hit low-wage workers the hardest; the people who work at restaurants, in our buildings and behind our deli counters. These are the places that we need to stay germ-free if our city is to stay healthy.
As the chair of the Council’s Small Business Committee, I take the concerns of business seriously, including the concern that this bill would affect the smallest businesses the most.
That’s why I support the current version, which would exempt the city’s smallest businesses from having to provide paid sick leave for their workers, significantly reducing the cost of the new policy for the most vulnerable businesses. Similarly, the bill gives new businesses a year to comply with the requirements.
In San Francisco, where there has been a sick-day law in effect for years, six out of seven businesses report that the law has had no impact on their profitability.
But you don’t have to take it from me. Take it from Bryan Pu-Folkes, a lawyer who owns a small private practice in Queens.
Pu-Folkes described his commitment in a report highlighting the positive benefits of paid sick leave that the business group Small Business United released earlier in the year, saying, “I believe one of the most important things a business owner can do is to ensure that she or he has a happy and healthy workforce. A healthy, happy employee is a productive employee and a productive employee makes for a stronger business and a stronger community. This is what the paid sick time bill helps to achieve — a measured and sensible approach to ensuring employees receive the care and respect they need when they fall ill.”
The amendments and measured approach in this bill have allowed business owners such as Pu-Folkes and councilmembers such as myself to stand behind it.
Lastly, the paid sick days bill protects public health in a way that the soda ban does not. In my district, which spans Bushwick and Williamsburg, there are many working families. I hear stories from across my district about the absurd choice that people are forced to make between their health and their jobs. This is the difference between the two. The soda ban tries to limit the unhealthy choices available to the consumer. But he can make the healthy choice — for a small over a large, for water over soda — with or without the ban.
This is not the case when it comes to paid sick days. The healthy choice — staying home when you’re sick — is literally not an option for thousands of workers, unless they are willing to risk their livelihoods. The paid sick days law would make this healthy choice possible.
Mayor Bloomberg should stop focusing his energy on what size sodas consumers may choose to buy. If he wants to dramatically improve the health of New Yorkers, he and Council Speaker Christine Quinn should stand up for millions of workers and families, who currently have to choose between their health, or their children’s health, and their jobs. After all, what good is buying a small soda, if the person who fills it and hands it to you has the flu?

Councilwoman Diana Reyna represents Williamsburg and Bushwick
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