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Caught the Flu, but No Sick Leave
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association opposed the ballot measure, but only because of the process, said Kevin Westlye, executive director. "It was introduced to us 24 hours before it went on the ballot," he said. The organization offered compromises of five days' paid sick leave in the first and second year a worker is employed, then 10 days in years three and beyond, but it was too late to change the ballot.
"Obviously, if someone is ill, they should not be at work," he said. "We did not campaign against it. At this point, we're simply leaving it alone."
The problem, he said, is the cumulative effect on small businesses. "We have the highest minimum wage in the country, universal health care and sick pay, all in a short period of three years," he said. "Philosophically, we don't oppose these, but the question is, what is the right amount?"
There is movement among federal lawmakers as well.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act in 2005, to require that employers with at least 15 employees provide seven days of paid sick leave annually for full-time employees. Part-time employees would get prorated leave depending on the hours they worked. The leave could be used for the medical needs of employees or their family members.
The bill will be reintroduced in the next session, and Kennedy's office expects that the Democratic majority will help it go further. Hearings are expected in the first few months of 2007.
"I think there will be, in this new climate, a lot more focus on working families," said Ness of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "This is the kind of legislation that is really supportive of working families and begins to move us toward putting actions where our words are."
According to a recent survey, 65 percent of New York City's working poor -- the 340,000 people who work and live in households below the federal poverty level of $16,000 for a family of three -- have no paid sick days.
"People with families who are living paycheck to paycheck don't have the savings to make up for a lost day's pay," said Nancy Rankin, director of research at the Community Service Society of New York.
Of low-income workers without paid sick days, 31 percent said they did not have even $100 in savings to fall back on, the survey showed.
Aurelia Brown is one of those people. She works 35 hours a week as a security officer, then 16 hours a week at another company to try to pay her bills. She has no health-care benefits and no paid sick days. The Brooklyn resident has been with the company where she works full-time for six years and earns $13 an hour as the fire and safety director for a building in Manhattan.
Brown, 44, has gone to work countless times with a fever or other illness. This year, she had to skip about five shifts because of the flu. And three weeks ago, she came to work with a fever. She had taken Tylenol with codeine the night before and was still groggy and sick.
She has no savings. "I have to pay the bills," Brown said. "So you pick and choose what day you go in."