Over the past few weeks, the debate over the City Council’s pending “paid sick leave” bill has heated up. Intro 97 seeks to mandate every business — regardless of size or nature — to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Businesses of 19 employees or less would be required to provide a minimum of five paid sick days for every part- and full-time employee while firms of 20 employees or more would be required to provide a minimum of nine days.
The entire business community has banded together to oppose the bill, contending that the bill imposes heavy financial burdens on the community — especially small businesses — during the worst recession since the Great Depression. We agree that no one should be forced to decide between tending to a sick child or losing a day’s pay, but Intro 97 fails to address the unfunded mandates it imposes and ultimately interferes with the employer’s ability to strike the right balance between what’s right for her business and her employees’ interests.
Mayor Bloomberg captured it best when he said earlier last week that the bill “would be disastrous for New York City.”
So, what has changed in the past year since the bill’s introduction that would warrant such increased attention and scrutiny over the bill? After all, Intro 97 has not been amended, nor has a competing bill has been introduced. In fact, nothing has changed, except — perhaps — for these recent developments:
• The New York City Partnership released a study showing that implementing this bill would cost businesses $789 million — the brunt of it borne by small businesses. Moreover, the study found that only 12 percent of the city’s private workforce is not provided with paid sick leave — significantly lower than the bill’s proponents’ claim of 48 percent.
• Our economy seems to be stuck in neutral with lackluster job creation. A recent report from the Empire Center for the New York State Policy stated that more than 150,000 jobs left the state from 1997 to 2003. In fact, the city’s meager job creation during this recession was not due to the financial sector but rather the retail, hospitality and accommodations sectors which are for the most part, comprised of small businesses.
• Editorials from news media with wide-ranging and varied readerships such as Crain’s New York Business, the New York Post and the Daily News have come out against the bill, citing its costs, over-broadness and timing.
These developments tell the sobering truth that Intro 97 is not what it is all cracked up to be. With its one-size-fits-all approach, Intro 97 addresses the issue of paid sick leave the same way a cannon ball addresses the problem of an annoying housefly. The housefly may no longer be annoying, but collateral damage is done to walls and foundation of the house.
So, while providing compensated sick time may be a laudable goal — and let’s face it, no one understands the value of a healthy, committed workforce better than business owners — this unfunded, unenforceable, unworkable new mandate will significantly damage the city’s economic foundation and make it that much more difficult for us to ever escape the Great Recession.
Carl Hum is president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.