CITY HALL — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn remained hesistant Wednesday to support a push to revive controversial legislation that would force private businesses to offer their employees paid sick days off.
During a press conference on the steps of City Hall, advocates rallied in favor of a new version of the Paid Sick Time Act, which was amended to make it more attractive to businesses worried it will cost them money.
While advocates have painted sick leave as a human-rights issue, critics, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have threatened that forcing private businesses to offer paid time off would cost employers hundreds of millions of dollars and threaten their survival, just as the weakened economy is trying to rebound.
Under the new version of the legislation, small businesses with fewer than five employees would be fully exempted from the requirement, but would have to offer job protection for up to five days if workers or their families fall ill.
Businesses with 19 or fewer employees would be forced to offer their employees five days of paid sick leave a year, while those with 20 or more employees would be forced to offer nine.
“Making sure that people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick is critical to keeping our city healthy,” said Upper West Side City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the bill’s sponsor, who said forcing sick people to ride the subways, serve food and take care of kids isn’t good for anybody.
More than 1.3 million employees in the city are estimated to be working without sick leave, mainly in the service industry.
While Quinn said she could not comment on the amendments until she’d seen a final version of the bill, she gave little indication Wednesday that her stance had changed since October, when she killed the legislation after months of heated rallies and hearings, disappointing many labor advocates who said she’d turned her back on their cause.
“As I said over a year or so ago now, I think the sponsors and proponents of paid sick leave, their goal is a laudable one," she told reporters after Wedneday's rally, arguing that the measure would “cost us jobs and cost us small businesses and their future in tough economic times.”
"That said, in the economic environment we are in, small businesses are hanging on by a thread,”
Given the circumstances, Quinn said the measure is “not one that I can support.”
Some Manhattan shop owners agreed.
Bruce Stark, co-owner of Beacon Paint and Hardware on the Upper West Side, said that while sick days don't have much of an impact on big companies, they make a huge difference at smaller businesses like his, which has "about 10" employees.
"I understand it, but it's a big expense for us and an inconvenience,” he said. “When you've got five guys on the counter and one takes off, that's 20 percent of the workforce."
The renewed push for paid sick leave comes days after the speaker announced a new deal on another piece of controversial labor legislation that would force developers receiving big city subsidies to pay their workers higher than minimum wage.
The two bills have received intense attention as Quinn tries to court both business and labor support as she mounts a run for mayor.
With reporting by Leslie Albrecht