For four months, Emilio Palaguachi, 43, worked 60-hour weeks behind the counter at Superior Deli on the Lower East Side. One day, he felt ill, and with the permission of his manager, missed a day of work to visit a doctor. But when he returned to work the next day, he was handed one day’s pay and fired.
“They didn’t give me any explanation,” said Palaguachi to a translator. “I asked if I had done something wrong and nobody knew what to say. Actually, everyone [co-workers] was upset because of how I was fired.”
As New York battles through one of the worst flu seasons in recent history, the divisive issue of sick leave hits hard with many workers struggling between recuperating from illness and retaining their jobs. More than a million New York City workers lack paid sick days, most operating in the food service, retail and health care industries, according to the NYC Paid Sick Days Campaign.
In August of 2009, the Paid Sick Time Act was first introduced to the New York City Council garnering support from members of the council, residents and civil rights groups. In 2012, the bill was revisited and rewritten to require businesses with more than 20 employees to allot nine paid sick days; companies with five to 20 workers to grant five days; and small businesses with fewer than five employees designate five unpaid, but job-protected, sick days each year. The bill has yet to be voted on by the council.
Julissa Bisono of Make the Road New York, a Jackson Heights based social justice organization, said opposition to the bill comes from small businesses, fearful that paid sick days may lead to bankruptcy.
“This bill will not only give people paid sick days but protect their jobs so they don’t come in the next day and find out that they don’t have a job because they took the day off to recover,” said Bisono.
Although the bill has 37 co-sponsors, City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn remains opposed, citing the city’s current economic status.
“This issue of paid sick leave, it’s a laudable goal,” Quinn said. “But in this economy if we do it right now in the way envisioned in the bill we’re going to put people out of business and we are going to lose jobs. This is not the right time to do it.”
Postponed by Superstorm Sandy, a second hearing on the bill has yet to be set by Quinn.
Palaguachi, who supports his wife and four young children, is concerned about finding another job and providing for his family. While his search has not yet been successful, Palaguachi said he hopes his next position will include benefits, sick days and days off for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
“Workers like me should be able to go to the doctor if we feel bad, and not show up to work if we are feeling ill, especially if we handle food and see customers,” said Palaguachi. “A lot of people can’t afford to take a day off. A lot of people don’t take off because they don’t want to lose their job. If someone is sick, this law will help prevent people from getting sick. You can go to the doctor and you’re not worried about losing your job.”
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