FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Over 4,000 corporate cafeteria workers are fighting to win back paid sick days their employers docked when they couldn't work because of Hurricane Sandy.
Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio rallied with food service union Unite Here Local 100 in the Finacial District Saturday, charging that employers stripped workers of sick days and vacation time even in cases where Sandy left workers' buildings closed or inaccessible because of stunted transportation.
"Sick days are one of the basic rights in our society," said DeBlasio. "These workers had to make choices during the storm they should never have had to, and it's not right."
DeBlasio said the workers, who are employed by corporate dining services like Sodexo and Aramark, didn't find out about having involuntary days off taken away until they got their moist recent pay stubs.
""It's not like they picked up the phone and said, 'Look guys, there's a disaster here, this is what's happening,'" DeBlasio said."Instead, you get you paycheck and 'bang!' all of your sickdays are gone."
Workers that didn't have any sick days left had vacation days taken away, said Unite Here Local 100 Secretary-Treasurer Jose Maldinado, and those that had neither weren't paid for the days they couldn't get to work.
Over 150 of the food service employees in the union, he said, were still out of work because workplaces remained closed.
Maldinado said the union filed grievances with seven food service companies, which were denied.
"I feel like these companies think they can do whatever they want," said Oscar Conca, 55, who has served food to Merrill Lynch workers for Sodexho for 17 years. "People with years, decades of service are being told to go to unemployment."
Conca faced two weeks out of work while the cafeteria at Merrill Lynch's Vesey St. headquarters was shuttered because of storm damage, he said, and now has no vacation or sick time left. He said he scrapes by to put his son through college and raise his other children — also nearing college age — so he doesn't think he can afford to miss another day.
"But we're in the food industry," Conca said. "You can't go to work and risk getting a whole bunch of people sick."
DeBlasio drafted a letter to all of the companies urging them to reconsider their policy, and said that he's confident that bringing attention to the issue will influence that decision.
"It's not Christmas yet, but these Grinches are stealing Christmas," he said. "When the people of this city understand what happened...it's going to be a very bad day for them."