The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New York mayor to unveil plan guaranteeing paid time off, aiming for a first

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx on Tuesday. (Reuters) (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) will unveil legislation Wednesday mandating two weeks of paid time off for workers in the city, a move that would guarantee paid time off for an additional 500,000 people.

The proposal, which would have to win approval from the City Council, would make New York a pioneer in labor law. No U.S. city or state requires paid time off for workers, while Puerto Rico does require employers to pay for time off. The law would exempt firms with fewer than five employees from the requirement.

At least 20 countries — including New Zealand, Ireland and Greece — mandate at least 10 days of paid vacation, making the United States an outlier in not offering these benefits. Several states and cities have adopted mandatory paid sick leave since 2011 but not paid vacation.

De Blasio’s push comes one day after he announced an initiative to guarantee health care for all city residents, including undocumented immigrants, pledging $100 million and a commitment to extend health insurance to an additional 600,000 New York residents.

New York City mayor vows health care for all — including undocumented immigrants

“More than 500,000 hard-working men and women should earn paid personal time when they contribute to the success of their companies,” de Blasio said in an email. “Our city’s businesses will benefit from a more productive, healthier workforce. By putting workers first, New York City’s economy has never been stronger.”

While the City Council is overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats, the plan is likely to engender opposition from the city’s business community, which has already cried foul over the mayor’s tax increases.

The legislation would extend paid leave to 200,000 workers in the hotel and food industries; 180,000 workers in “professional and business services” (such as cleaners, clerical workers and sales workers); and 90,000 workers in retail, according to the mayor’s office.

Companies would be required to grant at least two weeks off for full-time workers and paid time off for part-time workers. It would give employees the ability to gradually accrue paid time off amounting to 10 days over a year.

Republicans were quick to criticize the plan, arguing it would hurt employers and workers.

“Everyone wants employees to have a fair amount of vacation time, but one-size-fits-all government mandates tend to make it harder to hire, grow businesses and create jobs,” said Michael Steel, a Republican operative who served as an aide to former House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “This sounds like that’s what this would do.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has criticized mandatory paid sick leave on similar grounds, arguing such policies hurt workers and customers in part by forcing workers to cover for those who misuse the benefits. These plans can also reduce take-home pay, according to the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk.

Robert Hockett, a professor of law and finance at Cornell University, said the plan could improve New York City’s economy by boosting worker morale and was unlikely to lead to a major exodus of firms, who have other reasons to stay in the city. The legislation is modeled in part after de Blasio’s paid-sick-leave law, which was implemented by the city in 2014.

“Of course, we’ll hear from some economists that businesses will consider relocating as a result, but that’s rubbish,” Hockett said. “The things that attract companies to being in New York in the first place won’t just go away when something like this is put into action.”

Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the left-leaning National Employment Law Project, said the legislation could also help address the growing number of hours Americans are working without greater benefits or pay.

“A huge share of both working- and middle-class New Yorkers who don’t get much paid time off stand to benefit. It would protect them from having to choose between losing pay and going to their kid’s graduation or the funeral of a loved one,” Sonn said. “It would be historic.”