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In Bloomberg's Healthy NYC, Still Afraid to Take (on) Sick Days (July 26, 2012)

By Nancy Scola
The Atlantic

Advocates are, at the moment, pushing for a bill that would let a wide swathe of New York City workers take unscheduled time off to care for themselves or a loved one. Bloomberg is against it. So is the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn. It's not that paid sick days aren't a good idea, Quinn has said, it's just she does not think "it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time." On paper, at least, there's a veto-proof majority in the city council backing the bill; more than three dozen councilmembers have put their names on it. But Quinn refuses to bring the paid sick days bill up for a vote.

The paid sick days bill is needed, say its backers, in part because the American way of life has changed. With the two-income families the new normal, Mom simply isn't home all the time to take care of sick kids and ailing parents. The number of New Yorkers without paid sick leave is a point of contention -- the bill's advocates say it's more than a million, but opponents say that's crazily inflated. Whatever the actual number, advocates for the bill say lack of paid leave drives up health-care costs, increases job turnover, and leads to job insecurity that isn't good for anyone.

New York City is simply the latest forum for a push that's happening across the country.

In 2004, a report from the Institute of Women's Policy Research found that nearly half of all American workers lacked paid sick days.

It's too much for companies to bear; a Partnership surveyestimated that complying with the paid sick leave policy would cost New York City companies $789 million a year. Workers in many of the industries without sick leave, argues Wylde, place value on other things, like the freedom to barter days off or to get hired on for work quickly.

"What we've found," says Wylde, "is that when employers don't have a sick leave policy, there's a reason, and it's not because they're nasty."

That's all bunk, say paid sick leave's advocates, taking special issue with the three-quarters-of-a-billion price tag opponents put on the policy. Those bill's opponents complain about added paperwork; Kevin Miller of the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) says that it amounts to just a little added math at payroll time. (Especially galling to those pushing for paid sick leave is that the sort of companies represented by the business groups most vocal in the debate -- Brookfield Properties of Zuccotti Park fame, the law firm Proskauer, and the Yankees -- give theiremployees paid sick days.) An IWPR report out soon finds that when it comes to New York City, the costs and benefits to employers would be a wash, at about 22 cents per employee per hour in both directions.

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