One Million New Yorkers Set to Benefit from Paid Sick Leave

After years of debate and delay, paid sick days may soon become a reality for approximately one million New Yorkers who do not currently have access to them. After bottling up a bill that had earned strong backing among the public and her colleagues, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced in a turnaround this week that she had struck a deal with proponents of paid sick days in New York City and would allow the bill to come up for a vote, where it will likely win enough support to override an expected veto from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and become law.

The compromise legislation will reportedly require all New York City employers with over 20 employees to provide paid sick days beginning a year from now in April 2014, with that threshold dropping to 15 or more employees in October 2015, at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked and up to 5 days per year. Other provisions in the still-unfinalized bill are said to include a "trigger" which would prevent the law from taking effect if the city economy were to decline precipitously as well as a requirement that all smaller businesses not covered by the law provide unpaid time off for employees who get sick. The New York Times reported that the legislation will make it clear that, "whether the sick leave is paid or unpaid, companies will be legally forbidden from firing workers for taking such time off."

While the changes to the original language of the bill will mean New York City's law will be weaker than laws currently on the books in major cities like San Francisco and Seattle, the threshold for the size of employers will be lower than it is next door in Connecticut. (The National Partnership on Women and Families has an informative resource comparing the various paid sick days laws that have so far been enacted across the nation.)

The movement in New York City on paid sick days adds momentum to a number of paid sick days campaigns currently underway in the states. Legislatures in states including Vermont, Maryland, Massachussets, and Washington are all considering paid sick leave legislation this session, while in the month of March alone, New York was the third U.S. city to pass a sick leave measure, following Portland, Ore. and Philadelphia.

The winning streak on paid sick days and other workers' rights legislation in municipalities over the last few years has clearly been alarming to big corporations, who have been actively backing state efforts to preempt and repeal local paid sick days measures. Just one day before the deal in New York City was announced, a state Senate committee in Michigan approved a bill that would prevent cities from enacting similar sick leave requirements. Other states including Florida, Mississippi, and Washington are seeing similar bills pop up this year, all following in the footsteps of Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker signed a repeal of Milwaukee's paid sick days measure into law in 2011.

But the victory in New York City this week should inspire progressives elsewhere looking to advance what is, as a reminder, a broadly popular policy. The ripples may already be spreading south to Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter is coming under increasing pressure as he is expected to announce within days whether he will veto a paid sick days bill for the second time in his mayoralty. As Demos' Amy Traub notes, this week's win in New York was "the result of years of tireless organizing and advocacy" on the part of multiple organizations and individuals, and a hopeful reminder that, despite rampant corporate influence in the legislative process, "the game is not entirely rigged."