May 8, 2013
New York, NY – Today, after three years of organizing by low wage workers, the New York City Council passed a weakened version of the Earned Sick Time Act. While this marks progress for many workers who lacked paid sick days and who feared termination if they stayed home while sick, the final bill includes unacceptable compromises and exclusions.
The final language of the bill comes as a disappointment to food workers and the organizations representing them, such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and Brandworkers International, both of which are member organizations of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. Food workers have been involved in pushing for the legislation’s passage since 2009, and none of them anticipated that the final bill would deny paid sick days to all workers in the manufacturing sector, deny paid sick days to employees in many medium-size businesses, and include a provision that would require restaurant workers and other shift workers to “choose” between picking up an extra shift or taking a paid sick day.
“While giving job protection to most workers and paid sick days to many workers is a step forward, it is upsetting that a bill fueled by the stories of sick food workers would exclude many of those very workers,” said Diana Robinson of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. “The workers who produce, cook, and serve our food deserve the same basic rights as all other workers.”
There are 74,500 manufacturing workers in New York City. These workers are mostly minimum wage-earning immigrants who simply cannot afford to get sick. The Earned Sick Time Act denies manufacturing workers the right to paid sick days.
“Everyone’s safety is compromised when food production workers have to choose between losing their livelihood or coming to work sick and handling our food,” said Joseph Sanchez, Campaign Coordinator at Brandworkers. “Food manufacturing workers struggle to feed themselves and their families, struggle to survive on poverty wages in an industry rife with wage theft, discrimination, unsafe working conditions, and other abuses. The City Council’s outright exclusion of these workers from the right to paid sick days is simply indefensible.”
There are over 200,000 restaurant workers in New York City. The majority of these workers are people of color and immigrants. Almost 90% of restaurant workers in the City lack paid sick days. Restaurant workers are also some of the City’s lowest paid workers, experiencing high rates of poverty and wage theft.
“I support paid sick days for everyone, but I’m upset that shift workers are being treated differently than other workers,” said Carolina Portillo, a restaurant worker and member of ROC-NY. “I’ve been waiting years for this moment, and paid sick days shouldn’t just be optional for workers like me. It should be an absolute right, just like it is for any other worker.”
Under the Earned Sick Time Act, restaurant and other shift workers will be denied a paid sick day if they pick up an extra shift or change shifts with a co-worker.
“Picking up extra shifts is how many of these workers survive,” said Daisy Chung, Executive Director of ROC-NY. “Now, they are required to forego an extra shift if they take time off for an illness, or be denied pay for their sick day. We also expect that some employers will manipulate this provision to their advantage to avoid paying for sick time.”
The agreement also carved out businesses with fewer than 20 employees from being required to provide any paid sick leave beginning on April 1, 2014, and will be lowered to fewer than 15 employees beginning on October 1, 2015. The exemption, which originally only applied to businesses with no more than 5 employees, will now mean the exclusion of many food workers.
“Paid sick days are a fundamental right that all workers deserve. Unfortunately, the final version of the Earned Sick Times Act falls far short of guaranteeing this right, particularly for New York City’s food chain workers,” Robinson said. “FCWA member organizations will continue to organize until New York City’s paid sick days law covers everyone.”