A contentious hearing on paid sick leave ran for more than six hours Friday at City Hall. The legislation would require employers with more than five employees to offer paid days off for sick employees. Advocates for and against the policy have been arguing on the merits of the bill. But the hearing is also setting the stage for a heated political battle.
Supporters include the union leaders from the Central Labor Council, 1199 SEIU, 32 BJ, advocates for public health, women and family issues, religious leaders, low wage workers, and a large number of city council members.
In essence, they say people should not have to risk losing their job to take a sick day. They say the lack of mandated paid sick leave coverage disproportionately impacts low-wage workers, women, and people of color. It's also bad for public health to have sick people showing up at work.
Opponents rarely argue against the idea of paid sick leave. They take issue with the specifics of this legislation. They say fines starting at $1,000 to $5,000 are too high.
One of the most consistent arguments was over how the law would be enforced, falling under the Department of Health.
"What does the Health Department have to do with regulating labor issues?" said Linda Baron, the head of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. "This is a department that many of our council members claim over-regulating and charging exorbitant fees of restaurants to the the tune of $52 million in 2012."
Baron referenced restaurant inspections. But in essence, she was questioning why the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would be enforcing employment law in New York City.
Several other high profile business groups also testified about the adverse impact of the bill, including the Partnership For New York City, the Hospitality Alliance and the Business Council of New York.
There's also the political battle. Speaker Quinn has taken a lot of heat for not backing the bill and not allowing the Council to vote on it. She arrived late to the hearing and declined to make an opening statement. She said she was just there to listen.
But this was a tough room for her. She was sitting right in front of fellow mayoral candidate, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who technically presides over the City Council. He is very much in support of the bill and basically took a shot at Quinn over the fact that it hasn't come up for a vote.
"By my count it is 2 years, 361 days we have been waiting for a vote," said de Blasio. "So I am hoping that this additional outpouring of interest we see before us today means that we will soon have actual democratic process in this town and get a vote on this crucially important issue."
Later in the hearing former Comptroller Bill Thompson also testified, accusing the Speaker of blocking the legislation with an "iron fist." He's been pushing a compromise proposal that he says addresses the economic concerns the Speaker has raised.
Quinn listened to about an hour of testimony. She spoke briefly to reporters outside the Council Chamber. On paid sick leave, she said once again, she supports the idea — but the economic indicators make the timing wrong.
There's no clear next step following this hearing. The committee could hold another hearing. They could make additional amendments to the bill. Theoretically, the Speaker could call for a vote on the bill as it stands.
Or, in a very unlikely scenario, the bill's sponsor, Council member Gale Brewer, could make a "motion to discharge," a maneuver that could circumvent the Speaker.
For now, the wait and debate continue.