January 21, 2013

Flu spike fuels debate over paid sick time laws

Critics say mandatory paid sick leave is an unfair burden for small firms. Advocates believe it's both a public health and a work issue.

By JENNIFER PELTZ/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Activists hold signs Friday during a rally at New York's City Hall to call for immediate action on paid sick days legislation in light of the continued spread of the flu. An unusually early and vigorous flu season is drawing attention to the cause that has both scored victories and hit roadblocks in recent years: mandatory paid sick leave.

The Associated Press

Milwaukee voters approved a sick time requirement in 2008, but the state Legislature passed a law blocking it. Philadelphia's mayor vetoed a sick leave measure in 2011; lawmakers have since instituted a sick time requirement for businesses with city contracts. Voters rejected a paid sick day measure in Denver in 2011.

In New York, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer's proposal would require up to five paid sick days a year at businesses with at least five employees. It wouldn't include independent contractors, such as Zavala, who supports the idea nonetheless.

The idea boasts such supporters as feminist Gloria Steinem and "Sex and the City" actress Cynthia Nixon, as well as a majority of City Council members and a coalition of unions, women's groups and public health advocates. But it also faces influential opponents, including business groups, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has virtually complete control over what matters come to a vote.

Quinn, who is expected to run for mayor, said she considers paid sick leave a worthy goal but doesn't think it would be wise to implement it in a sluggish economy. Two of her likely opponents, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu, have reiterated calls for paid sick leave in light of the flu season.

While the debate plays out, Emilio Palaguachi is recovering from the flu and looking for a job. The father of four was abruptly fired without explanation earlier this month from his job at a deli after taking a day off to go to a doctor, he said. His former employer couldn't be reached by telephone.

"I needed work," Palaguachi said after Friday's City Hall rally, but "I needed to see the doctor because I'm sick."

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