By Karen Frantz
Celina Alvarez used to work at the Taqueria El Idolo restaurant on Corona Avenue in Elmhurst as a cook, but in February she started to feel sick.
Alvarez, who moved to New York from Mexico two years ago, said she kept going to work because she did not have paid sick days.
A week later she ended up in the hospital and was released with a heart monitor and orders to rest for two weeks .She called her employer and told him what happened, but she said when she was well enough to return to work, the taqueria did not take her back.
“In other words, I lost my job just because I got sick and couldn’t go back to work right away,” she said.
Alvarez told her story in front of the taqueria at a rally last week. She was joined by City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst), low-wage workers and small business owners, who were speaking in support of a proposal that would protect New Yorkers’ jobs if they need to take sick leave and require many businesses to offer paid sick days.
“We can no longer have New Yorkers lose their jobs based on the fact that they’re sick,” said Ferreras.
She is sponsoring the sick leave bill, which has garnered strong support in the Council. The proposal would require businesses with more than five employees to provide earned, paid sick days for their workers. Businesses with more than 20 employees would have to give nine days and businesses with less than 20 would provide five. Businesses with fewer than five employees would not have to provide paid sick days, but workers’ jobs would be protected if they missed five days of work due to illness.
Hilary Klein, a lead organizer with Make the Road New York, an advocacy organization for low-wage workers, said when ill employees go to work, it makes it more likely that diseases will spread. But if workers are allowed to stay home when they are sick, it benefits everyone, she said.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) has said she is not planning on bringing the bill up for a vote anytime soon because she is worried about the impact it would have on local business.
“This is just not the right time to do it,” she said at a meeting with small business owners at the Sly Fox Inn in Fresh Meadows last week.
She said that although paid sick leave “is a laudable goal,” she is concerned about the effect it would have on small business in a difficult economy.
The sick leave bill would cost an additional 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent of businesses’ payrolls, an extra burden small businesses cannot afford, Quinn said.
She said the bill would “put people out of business and we’re going to lose jobs at a time when we’re seeing unemployment go up.”
The Queens Chamber of Commerce also opposes the bill, saying most businesses that do not offer paid sick leave are in sectors that have low profit margins and have to hire replacement workers when employees miss work.
Most of these businesses have barter systems in place wherein employees can exchange shifts when they are sick, a system the government cannot effectively regulate, the chamber said in a letter sent to Quinn this year.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.