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Quinn Backs Paid Sick Leave in Deal That Will Cover 1 Million New Yorkers

By  Julie  Shapiro Jill Colvin and Joe Parziale | March 28, 2013 7:38pm | Updated on March 29, 2013 1:26pm

NEW YORK — Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has thrown her support behind the long-controversial paid sick leave bill, cutting a deal that clears the way to cover 1 million New Yorkers by 2015 and neutralizes one of her election rivals' chief criticisms.

The bill — which has enough votes to pass the City Council and override Mayor Michael Bloomberg's promised veto — would require companies of 20 employees or more to provide five paid sick days to workers each year, starting in April 2014.

The coverage would expand in October 2015 to include businesses of 15 employees or more.

The deal will cover an estimated 1 million New Yorkers by 2015, officials said.

Quinn had shelved the paid sick leave bill for more than three years, saying she was torn between wanting to support the workers and unions who were pushing for it and business owners who said it would burden them with new costs and stifle economic growth as the city continues to feel the impact of the recession.

"People who are sick or who are taking care of a sick or ailing loved one should be able to take a day off without being afraid of losing their job and therefore being afraid that they won’t be able to pay their bills. It is simply the right thing to do," Quinn said on the steps of City Hall, where she and supporters gathered Friday to formally celebrate the deal.

“It protects people. It protects small businesses. And I’m incredibly proud of this final legislation," she said.

Quinn also insisted her change of heart had nothing to do with the mayor's race.

"The question for me was never a question of if, it was only a question of when and how," she said. "Sometimes it takes a while to get good policy, but this isn’t about politics, it’s about policy.”

The delay had become one of the mayoral race's pivotal issues, especially for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who had hammered Quinn on a near-daily basis for blocking the vote.

The bill was also pushed by several powerful unions, including 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, whose endorsements are coveted by the candidates.

But de Blasio said the deal was too little too late.

"The final outcome leaves out over 300,000 New Yorkers and took far too long," he said in a statement, adding that he planned "to keep fighting for these New Yorkers left behind.”

The bill does not apply to seasonal workers, work-study students and those who have worked at a job for less than four months, but it does cover part-time workers, Quinn's office said.

Those businesses that are not required to provide paid sick leave under the bill would have to provide unpaid sick leave instead, officials said.

It also includes a caveat that the law will only go into effect if the economy continues to recover, using the obscure New York Federal Reserve Bank’s “Coincident Index” as its measure.

The Department of Consumer Affairs will enforce the measure. The originally proposed fines of $1,000 to $5,000 were reduced to $500 to $2,500 under the deal negotiated by Quinn.

Advocates for paid sick leave hailed the deal as a hard-fought victory.

"After years of non-stop advocacy and coalition building, I am pleased and grateful that we have reached a deal," City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who sponsored the paid sick leave bill, said in a statement.

"One million New Yorkers will now have the fundamental right to take a paid day off when they or a family member is ill, and no worker will be fired if they must stay home." 

Even some of those who had opposed paid sick leave legislation, including Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, praised Quinn's announcement as a compromise.

"The framework that Speaker Quinn is proposing appears to be a substantial improvement over previous versions of the legislation," Wylde said in a statement.

But Bloomberg said in statement Friday that, while the "compromise version of the bill is better than previous iterations, it will still hurt small businesses and stifle job creation."

"The bill is short-sighted economic policy that will take our city in the wrong direction, and I will veto it,” he said.