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Last week, Mayor Bloomberg issued a press release advising people who get sick this season to stay home for at least 24 hours.

He makes it sound so easy.

Of course, Mayor Bloomberg has paid sick days.  So, it’s hard for him to understand how the other half lives.  The other half being the nearly 50% of New Yorkers who lack a single paid sick day.

According to a recent report released by Community Service Society and A Better Balance, entitled Sick in the City:  What the Lack of Paid Leave Means for Working New Yorkers, the number of workers without paid sick leave jumped from 42% in 2008 to 48% in 2009.  This report also found that 66% of all New York City low income workers have no paid sick days and that 75% of all New Yorkers (regardless of income level) support paid sick leave legislation.

Mayor Bloomberg, on the other hand, does not support paid sick leave legislation.  Only one day after advising people to stay home when sick this season, Mayor Bloomberg weighed in on the paid sick days bill currently pending in the New York City Council, calling it “disastrous” for small businesses. 

This bill that Mayor Bloomberg speaks of,  which has garnered the support of 36 (out of 51) council members, would provide up to 5 paid sick days to employees of small businesses – defined as businesses with 20 or less employees – and up to 9 days for larger business’s employees.  Sick days could be used when the employee is sick and could also be used to care for one’s sick children.

It would, in other words, alleviate the dread that working parents, particularly working moms, have in the morning when they wake with a sick child, knowing their decision to stay home and care for their child will have repercussions for their income and for their job security.

It’s a dread that Mayor Bloomberg has likely never felt.  Which may explain why he is so easily dismissing the need for paid sick leave legislation. 

But where is Mayor Bloomberg getting his information that this legislation, so important to the working families in New York, is also “disastrous” to the business community?

Certainly not from the independent estimates (rather than those put forward by business groups) that show the cost of paid sick days legislation for small businesses is a far less costly benefit than say, for example, mandatory health care.

And certainly not from the experience of San Francisco, a city that actually has paid sick leave legislation and whose businesses have not been harmed by the implementation of minimum paid sick leave.

In fact, the experience of San Francisco reminds us that sometimes issues that the business community does not like so much, that are arguably moral issues, turn out to be, well, not such big deals. 

You know, like smoking bans in public places.

On the pending paid sick days legislation, Mayor Bloomberg went on to say:  “It would be a disaster if the government tries to get in to run small businesses. If they run the bars and restaurants, they’ll try to run everything else.”

He said this after announcing his plan - backed by Council Speaker Quinn - to expand the city-wide smoking ban in restaurants and bars to parks and other outdoor arenas.

Confusing, no?

In light of the startling statistics regarding the lack of paid sick days for low income workers, Mayor Bloomberg’s opposition to the pending legislation makes him appear woefully out of touch with the realities of New York workers.

Of course, Mayor Bloomberg’s position on paid sick days is most troubling because women bear the brunt of the lack of paid sick days.  Most of these low income jobs without paid sick days are female-dominated.  Child care workers and elder care workers are often among those without paid sick days.  Working mothers, including single working mothers, who often lack paid time off, are without recourse when a child is sick and must remain home from school.  For these low income female workers and the children they support, paid time off is not a luxury; it is a necessity. 

The fact that low income working mothers have to make a choice between staying home with sick children or losing a job is immoral.  The public health threat created by low income workers who have to come to work sick just to keep their jobs and their low income pay is alarming.  The ever growing number of New York residents without a single paid sick day is frustrating.

The fact that we cannot pass paid sick days legislation in this climate?  Well, to borrow a term, it’s disastrous.

Mayor Bloomberg’s zeal for certain public health issues, such as the notorious anti-smoking ban in public places, stems from the fact that he used to be a smoker.  Too bad Mayor Bloomberg was never a working mom or a low income worker with not a single paid sick day. 

Maybe then we’d get the paid sick days legislation this city needs.

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