Which Side Are You On? Activists Launch "Women for Paid Sick Days" Campaign to Press Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn
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Not all business owners are unsympathetic to the problem, either. “You don't want people too sick to serve,” Barbara Sibley, the owner of La Palapa restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, who's given her employees paid sick days for the twelve years she's been open, told AlterNet. “It's the culture, people just come in to work sick. It doesn't even occur to them that maybe they should not. Sometimes the new employees are surprised that I send them home when they're sick, they say 'Well what are you going to do?' and I say 'We'll figure it out. Hopefully everybody will just pull a little harder, and then you'll be well and when they're sick you'll help them out.'”
Putting the Pressure on Quinn
“We're here because it's a social justice issue,” Marjorie Hill told the crowd at City Hall. But social justice issues may turn out to be Christine Quinn's stumbling block on her way to the mayorship.
She managed to split the difference on the city's living wage bill, taking credit for its passage but watering it down to the point where it only covered a few hundred workers (and then throwing a very public tantrum when Bloomberg was mocked at the press conference announcing the bill's success). But with very prominent figures like Steinem publicly calling for the passage of paid sick days, she may not be able to do so again. Steinem, who introduced Quinn at a 500-person fundraiser last fall, wrote to the New York Times that her support was conditional on the paid sick days bill coming up for a vote in the City Council.
And as Quinn will no doubt make much of the ground she'd break as the city's first woman mayor, the formation of a “Women for Paid Sick Days” coalition specifically targeting her could be even more problematic. The coalition seems to say it's not enough for Quinn to simply be a woman: she has to take care of working women (and men), too.
Paid sick leave bills were introduced in the Council in 2009 and 2010, but Quinn claims to be concerned about their impact on small businesses. (The current bill exempts businesses with less than 5 employees, though it does include a requirement that those businesses not fire employees for needing sick time.) “With the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time,” Quinn said in a statement this week.
Sibley, however, disagrees with this argument. “I have people who've been working for me since the day we opened. Some of them I've paid for months. And I'm still here, so it can be done. I think that it's important, you want people to care for the guests – how can they care for the guests if they don't feel cared for?” she asked. “I realize that it's my responsibility, they're my responsibility to take care of.”
In San Francisco, which has had a paid sick leave ordinance on the books since 2007, a 2011 report found that two-thirds of employers now support the policy, and that it hasn't been a job-killer.
The rough economy simply isn't an excuse for the hundreds gathered at City Hall on Thursday. Castaneda declared that paid sick leave would provide, “real economic security for hundreds of thousands of women.”
“In the next few months we're going to be holding rallies and press conferences, organizing 500 prominent women leaders to join our call to Speaker Quinn to bring paid sick days to a vote on the floor of the city council,” Poo told the crowd. “We'll be using email and social media and good old fashioned dear neighbor letters to engage hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors.”