De Blasio expands NYC paid sick leave law, flexes muscle of city's new liberal government

NEW YORK, N.Y. – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio touted an expansion of the city’s paid sick leave law Friday, the first legislative accomplishment of his administration and a muscular display of the new, left-leaning government running the nation’s largest city.

More than half a million New Yorkers will receive paid sick days thanks to the bill, which will be fast-tracked through the City Council. The new speaker of the council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, stood with de Blasio outside a Brooklyn restaurant to announce the legislation, long a dream of liberal politicians and activists, but her presence seemed indicative of more.

Mark-Viverito is the liberal de Blasio’s ideological match and a partner at the controls of government. She leads a council that largely shares de Blasio’s beliefs and appears poised to rubber-stamp much of his agenda, a sharp contrast between the often contentious relationship between the council and the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Mark-Viverito, who was elected speaker last week by her council colleagues, is a longtime ally of de Blasio. The mayor took the unusual step of lobbying council members to choose her, a practice that some critics felt undermined the government’s system of checks-and-balances.

De Blasio made it clear that on this issue, the mayor and the council were speaking with one voice.

“This City Hall is going be on the side of working families all over this city,” he said. “We’re going to work hard and we’re going to work together — both sides of City Hall — to make sure that this will be one city where everyone rises together.”

The winding history of the paid sick legislation, which was first discussed more than four years ago, offers a window into the changed relationship between council and mayor. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent who held pro-business policies, opposed the paid sick legislation for fears that it would burden small businesses. He pressured then-Speaker Christine Quinn, a sometimes ally, to stall the legislation over the cries of several elected officials.

One of those was de Blasio, then the public advocate, who turned paid sick days into a campaign issue in last year’s mayoral race. Under intense pressure from the left during the Democratic primary that she was also running in, Quinn eventually caved, offering a watered-down version of the bill that mandated that businesses with 15 or more employees offer at least five sick days a year.

That bill was to go into effect in April. It will now be superseded by the new legislation, which will be introduced at a council meeting next week and is assured of passage. The new bill requires businesses that employ more than five workers to offer the same five sick days a year to be used if the employee or a family member falls ill.

The expansion also removes exemptions for the manufacturing sector, eliminates a provision that would have allowed some businesses to not offer coverage until 2015 and gets rid of measures that could have stalled the implantation of sick days based on certain citywide economic benchmarks. The new law would bring New York closer in line to cities that already have paid sick days legislation, like Seattle and San Francisco.

“Under this legislation, the lives of over a half-million New Yorkers will be immeasurably better,” de Blasio said outside a restaurant in the Bushwick neighbourhood. “Families will be stronger and more stable because they will have paid sick leave coverage.”

Some small businesses have feared that having to pay employees for sick days would produce an economic hardship. A leading business group, the Partnership for New York City, offered a measured endorsement of de Blasio’s plan.

“Our hope is that these amendments to the current law will expand protection to more workers who need it, but avoid undue hardship on employers,” said Kathy Wylde, head of the organization.