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NYC close to sick day mandate

A bill would force New York businesses with 20 workers to offer five paid sick days a year.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A bill would force New York businesses with 20 workers to offer five paid sick days a year.

NEW YORK — In a significant victory amid a push for paid sick time laws around the country, New York City lawmakers voted Wednesday to make businesses provide the benefit to an estimated 1 million workers who do not have it now.

Saying they hoped that requiring sick leave in the nation’s largest metropolis would set an example, City Council members positioned New York to become the most populous place to approve such a law during a campaign that has scored several victories but also a number of defeats. A mayoral veto is expected, but so is an override.

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Advocates see the measure as a signal accomplishment, although it has limits and conditions.

“It’s very important that it’s happening in the biggest city,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values at Work, which promotes paid sick time initiatives around the country. Besides the big-city setting, the New York measure also attracted some boldface-name backers, including feminist Gloria Steinem and “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon.

Supporters see paid sick time as a basic matter of working conditions, akin to a minimum wage, and a way to stop coughing, sneezing employees from spreading germs to their colleagues and customers. The New York measure’s sponsor, Councilwoman Gale Brewer, says it is about “a workplace that is safe, fair, and respectful of the lives of workers.”

Critics say some small enterprises cannot afford the benefit, and businesses resent the implication that they are forcing ailing employees to work and creating a public health problem.

Government should let bosses and employees work out sick time arrangements on their own, they say. Some restaurants, for example, have shift-switching systems instead of paid time off, partly on the premise that servers would rather not lose out on tips.

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg complained that the measure would “hurt small businesses and stifle job creation” in a statement in March.

Employees of businesses with 20 or more workers would get up to five paid sick days a year beginning in April 2014; the benefit would kick in by October 2015 at enterprises with 15 to 19 workers. All others would have to provide five unpaid sick days per year, meaning that workers could not get fired for using those days.

Workers could choose to work extra hours instead of taking sick time, a provision that could be attractive to those who would rather trade shifts than call in sick.

Advocates said they will continue to push for having all workers get paid leave.

The measure passed 45 to 3.

Supporters view the New York measure as a bellwether for a cause being pressed in Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state by various groups, including the Working Families Party. Saltsman, though, questions whether the idea will gain traction outside a liberal core of cities.

Paid sick time measures have been approved in Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and the state of Connecticut.

But the Wisconsin Legislature blocked a voter-approved Milwaukee paid sick time requirement, Denver voters rejected one, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed one last month; an override attempt failed.

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