The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed a bill this week guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days for most local workers. Those who opposed the measure say it will hurt small businesses.
The paid sick days bill passed 12-to-5. Democrat Catherine Borgia is the bill’s main sponsor. She has been working on the legislation since 2015.
“The legislation lets an employee earn one hour for every 30 hours worked,” Borgia says. “So if you are working a full-time schedule, you will theoretically earn five days of sick time under this measure.”
Pete Donohue is with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which began advocating for the measure three years ago.
“Some have the perception that the Republicans, all they care about is getting the rich richer,” Donohue says. “Well, let’s show here in Westchester that that’s not the case, that here in Westchester, we also care about the people who are delivering the coffee, cutting the lawns and driving the school buses, and not just the Wall Street investors.”
Under the measure, sick time will be paid at businesses with five or more employees. And the time may be taken for a worker’s own illness or to care for an ill family member.
“So I completely agree with the concept,” Tubiolo says. “I was just hoping for a little more compromise.”
That’s Yonkers Republican David Tubiolo, who voted against the measure.
“Now, there’s also states, such as Connecticut, that has an exemption rate of 50 employees and more. Anything under, they’re exempt. Rhode Island’s 18, anything under, exempt. Maryland’s 15 and Massachusetts is 11. So states with a lot more volume with businesses that have a higher exemption number,” says Tubiolo. “I was hoping for a compromise with maybe a higher, slightly higher exemption number and a scale system so small businesses didn’t have to have the burden as a corporation.”
Democratic Legislator Michael Kaplowitz:
“I’m going to support this law but I’m very disappointed in two things, one, that the leadership of this board and the main sponsors on this were unwilling to reach across both the aisle and the intellectual aisle to compromise and to mirror the numbers that other states and other entities use,” Kaplowitz says.
Kaplowitz, a small business owner, wonders if such a move will drive out some small companies.
“This board needs to be careful,” Kaplowitz says. “We’re going to kill the golden goose if we continue to assault small business in little and big ways.”
Democratic Board of Legislators Chair Benjamin Boykin:
“As Legislator Kaplowitz said, we don’t want to kill the golden goose and we’re not planning to kill the golden goose because we understand that most people work in small businesses. They don’t work in major businesses at all,” Boykin says. “This is not only good for business, it’s a public health issue.”
“There is obviously a cost associated with this. We’re very grateful to A Better Balance for doing the data specific to Westchester County that shows that in Westchester County we believe that although there will be about $.05 per hours to employers, that the savings to employers will be approximately $.06 per hour,” says Borgia. “So this is basically a cost-neutral measure.”
That, she says, is when such costs as turnover and training are taken into account. About one year ago, there was hepatitis exposure at a Port Chester restaurant, and Boykin points to the incident as a need for paid sick days.
“Many of you probably don’t want to get the phone call I got last late September/early October when they said, you ate at bartaco, and I think you need to go get a hepatitis shot,” says Boykin. “So both my wife and I had eaten there, and we did go to our primary care and got the hepatitis shot.”
Democrat Kitty Covill, whose district includes Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge and Somers, voted against the measure noting concerns over cost and potential burden to small businesses.
Sarah Leberstein is senior staff attorney and workplace justice coordinator for Make the Road New York.
“One of our clients who spoke at the hearing wasn’t allowed to take the time off from her job at a dry cleaning business in Tarrytown either to go to prenatal appointments when she was pregnant or medical appointments for any of her own kids. And if she missed even a couple hours of work to go see a doctor, the owner of the business refused to pay her for the entire day of work. And we see this a lot. Our member wasn’t alone,” Leberstein says. “About 36 percent of all workers in Westchester lack this basic right. And it’s really low-wage workers, immigrant workers, Black and Latino workers who suffer the most, were most likely to be denied this right. And especially single parents we see hit the hardest.”
Some Capital District workers and community leaders praised the action and vowed to push the Albany County Legislature to follow Westchester’s lead. Meantime, New York City workers have had paid sick days benefits since 2014.