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Amy Traub

Paid Sick Days — The Stakes for Hispanic New Yorkers

As John Petro lays out in "No More Delay: Proven Policy Solutions for New York City" all New Yorkers would benefit from a policy that guarantees paid sick days to every person working in the city.

But the stakes are especially high for Hispanic New Yorkers, because they work disproportionately in the industries least likely to provide paid sick leave. That's the case I make today in the pages of El Diario La Prensa, the nation's oldest Spanish language newspaper.

Read a translation of the article after the jump. (The English version includes text that was cut from the print edition for reasons of space.)

No More Delay on Paid Sick Days
Amy Traub is director of research at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy

Scientists are predicting that the swine flu virus will return to New York City in the fall. But many New Yorkers will not be able to take time off to recover if they happen to catch it. A recent survey by the Community Service Society of New York found that more than two-thirds of the city's working poor do not get a single paid sick day from their employers. Overall, nearly a million New York City residents lack paid sick leave. Some even risk getting fired if they try to stay home with the flu.

The situation is particularly dire for Hispanic New Yorkers, who work disproportionately in industries that seldom offer paid leave. For example, in New York's restaurant industry, where one in every three employees is Hispanic, more than 80% of workers report that they do not get paid sick days. More than half of the city's restaurant workers say they have come to work sick, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. It is simply unfair to force them to choose between their health and their jobs.

Fortunately, there is a clear solution. New York should follow the example of San Francisco, a city that guarantees every person working in the city - full-time or part-time, undocumented or native born - access to seven paid sick days a year (five for employees of small businesses). Workers in San Francisco can use their sick days to recover from illness, see the doctor, or stay home with a sick child or loved one. When they do, they still receive a paycheck, and they minimize the spread of disease in the process.

But do New York's mayoral candidates support the policy? At a recent Working Families Party forum, Roberto De La Cruz from the United Food and Commercial Workers union asked them directly. All three mayoral candidates- Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Comptroller Bill Thompson, and Councilman Tony Avella - expressed strong support for guaranteeing paid sick days to at least some workers in New York City. This is an enormously encouraging sign and represents a major step forward for public health.

Yet the candidates hesitated about guaranteeing paid sick days to New Yorkers who work for small businesses - exactly the workers most likely to need the benefit. San Francisco's experience demonstrates that there is no need to leave these workers out. Today the strongest business opponents of paid sick days admit that the policy has not harmed their bottom line. San Francisco's restaurant association even called the law "successful" and acknowledged that employee abuse of the new benefit was not widespread. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce told the Wall Street Journal: "We really have not heard much about it being a major issue for a lot of businesses."

After all, businesses can reap benefits that offset the costs: employees are more productive when they have time to recover from illness and less likely to quit. A study of the impact of paid sick days in San Francisco found that the level of employment has not been negatively impacted. In fact, the industry most affected by the new mandate--restaurant and hospitality businesses--saw strong job growth compared to other counties in the region.

As we face the threat of another, potentially more dangerous swine flu outbreak this fall, workers throughout the United States should have guaranteed access to paid sick days, no matter where they work. New York, the nation's largest city, should stop dragging its feet on this issue and help lead the way.

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Posted at 11:02 AM, Jul 27, 2009 in Health Care | Labor
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