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Sick day bill is about fairness

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It’s something most people probably take for granted: when you are sick, or your child is sick, you can take a day off of work without getting docked, or fearing that you’ll lose your job.

Unfortunately, that’s not true for hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers in the city. As a result, too many working families are forced to choose between their health and their livelihood. This situation is obviously bad for workers — it forces them to go to work or send their kids to school when they’re sick — and its also bad for anyone who eats out, sends their kids to school, or rides the subway.

That’s why I’m co-sponsoring legislation in the Council to insure that all New Yorkers get at least five paid sick days each year, to use on the rare-but-necessary occasions when they need to get well. Most workers already have this modest workplace right, but hundreds of thousands don’t. This bill will help working families, improve public health, and level the playing field.

But what about small businesses? I’ve heard from friends like Irene LoRe of Aunt Suzie’s restaurant on Fifth Avenue, and Carl Hum, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, who fear that this legislation would hurt small businesses in a very tough economy, when we need to focus on saving and creating jobs. Their opinion means a lot to me, since small businesses are where most jobs are created, and a big part of what makes our neighborhoods great.

I agree that we need to do more to support small businesses. Earlier this year, I co-sponsored the Small Business Owners Bill of Rights, which makes it easier for business to contact violations, and sets a standard for fair and consistent enforcement. I hope soon the city will give small businesses the chance to correct violations before fines are levied. And I’m working with local merchants on efforts to make sure more New Yorkers “buy local” — since the best thing we can do to help small businesses is to patronize them.

But after studying the evidence, I firmly believe that businesses small and large can afford to grant their workers a modest amount of paid sick leave. So many already do. And a recent Urban Institute survey of employers in San Francisco found that “they were able to implement the paid sick leave requirement [adopted in 2006] with minimal impacts to their business.”

If we can do the right thing for hundreds of thousands of workers, with minimal impacts to business, shouldn’t we?

Brad Lander is a councilman whose district covers Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Borough Park.

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