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New York Post

 

Quinn's Sick Daze

March 25, 2013

By Nicole Gelinas

Ailing over bad paid-leave bill

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn must have wanted to call in sick Friday. Instead, she walked into a massive headache for her mayoral campaign — the council’s all-day hearing on paid sick leave for New York’s private workers.

A majority of the council wants to force companies with at least five workers (and people who have nannies and maids) to give five days a year, plus, for part-time workers, an hour per 30 hours worked.

You could take a paid day off not only if you’re at death’s door, but if you have to take your mother-in-law for a checkup. Employers couldn’t ask you for a doctor’s note until you had been out for three straight days.

Bosses who run afoul of the rules would face fines from $1,000 to $3,000 — and private lawsuits.

It boils down to yet another tax on small businesses and low-wage jobs. As Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, testified Friday, the mandates that government imposes on businesses "are adding up so that they can’t afford it."

But all businesses will notice this administrative nightmare.

Firms with more than 20 workers offer paid leave to 95 percent of their workers, the Partnership for New York City found. But they may want doctors’ notes after two days rather than three.

Or firms may lump paid leave into "personal time" that workers can use for illness or vacation. Not once this bill becomes law.

Businesses are nervous, too, that the Health Department — famous for frivolous fines — will be the enforcer. Also worrisome is the city’s habit of using its regulatory powers to raise money rather than stop bad behavior.

And city taxpayers will pay, albeit indirectly. The city — and state and MTA — do most of their construction work through private contractors. Private union workers have 20 days’ paid time off, but this bill would give them an added benefit. Unions can waive it in future contracts — but they’ll want something in return.

The cost will "be reflected in increased construction costs for all the city’s capital projects," said Denise Richardson of the General Contractors Association.

The bill’s advocates focused Friday on the people who don’t have any time off — poor workers, mostly immigrants.

Pablo Martinez, a Mexican immigrant, lost money from his car-wash job because he spent 10 days in the hospital with a kidney ailment. Celina Alvarez, who came from Mexico two years ago, lost her job at a Queens restaurant after spending five days in the hospital and then needing two weeks of "complete rest" for a heart condition.

But this bill could hurt such seriously ill (and older) people — because employers will shy from hiring them.

If the state or nation wants to expand short-term disability insurance or otherwise help chronically afflicted people, that’s a fair topic — but that’s not what’s up for a vote.

Or would be up for a vote — if Quinn would allow it. For three years, her position on paid sick leave has been . . . delicate. She says she’s for it, but not now, because the economy is bad.

Critics ask: If not now, when? Smaller employers are always struggling, and unemployment in New York is always high.

Quinn’s mayoral opponents have seized on the bill as her biggest weakness. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio showed up Friday to serve as honorary council member, sitting above the speaker on the dais and asking questions of panelists. He finished off by claiming that Quinn could’ve slowed this year’s flu epidemic had she enacted sick leave a year or six months ago.

Former Comptroller Bill Thompson proposed a "compromise" under which the council would delay enforcement for a year. "The only obstacle to this legislation is the speaker," he testified. She "is blocking it with an iron fist" and thwarting "economic justice."

Activist groups have made sick leave their marquee issue. Their foot soldiers showed up Friday to see Quinn come in late, say only "Thank you," and walk out hours early. And the council members Quinn is supposed to astutely lead are openly rebelling.

Quinn could make herself clear by saying: Imposing another tax on jobs isn’t a good idea — period.

Otherwise, voters on either side of this fight may ask: If she can’t manage special interests now, when will she?

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/quinn_sick_daze_LJWsxB5MK6js3qNvFRZiyL

 

 
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