February 2, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
One of the most alarming flu seasons in some time remains in full swing, but scores of workers in New York City toiling without any form of paid sick leave still have to make a choice between their health and their job.
Emilio Palaguachi was recently fired from his job at Superior Deli in Manhattan after he took off a day from work to see a doctor after succumbing to the flu.
"I had a very bad flu and asked the manager if I could take the day off to go see my doctor,” Palaguachi told supporters at a rally held earlier this week. “I was miserable and did not want to contaminate my coworkers or the customers, since my job was making sandwiches. The manager told me it was okay, but when I came back – the day after going to the doctor – I was fired.”
New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer’s Paid Sick Leave bill enjoys the support of almost 40 members of the 51-member New York City Council. But Speaker Christine Quinn refuses to allow the measure to come to a vote, claiming as she has for weeks, that it would be “unwise” to back the Paid Sick Leave Act because it would somehow hurt “businesses struggling to stay alive.”
"When people catch the flu but don't have the right to stay home to recover, it's not just unfair, it's also unhealthy," said Working Families Party Deputy Director Bill Lipton. "This year's virulent flu outbreak should make the issue even clearer. It's time for Speaker Quinn to allow a vote on paid sick days."
Like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s intransigence on the ongoing school bus strike, Quinn’s intractability on the Paid Sick Leave Act is frustrating many who are being directly affected.
“I’ve been involved with the Paid Sick Leave campaign for a couple of years now,” Dr. Bill Jordan told LaborPress. “It’s certainly an important issue for me because I have patients who come to see me at the clinic all the time who are concerned about losing their jobs because they’re taking off time to see me.”
Dr. Jordan treats patients at a community health center in the Bronx, and has started a petition along with colleague Dr. Manisha Sharma at SignOn.org aimed at convincing Speaker Quinn to change her mind and allow the Paid Sick Leave Act to be debated in the New York City Council.
“I can understand the she’s concerned about the economic impact on the city when we’re still recovering from a recession, but I think the evidence is clear that there are no adverse effects from paid sick days on the economic outlook,” Dr. Jordan said.
Conversely, the Center for Disease Control has found that an average seasonal flu outbreak costs American business $10.4 billion.
"It is imperative that we institute paid sick days for workers in small businesses across our City," Council Member Margaret Chin said. "Emilio's story is a perfect example of why workers need this protection. Why would an employer want his staff coming to work – and handling food – when he had the flu? That is simply bad business.”
Speaker Quinn has already received tens of thousands of signatures on other petitions imploring her to quit blocking the Paid Sick Leave Act, and Dr. Jordan doesn’t hold out any special hope that his petition – which at last count had about 4,000 signatures – will ultimately sway the woman seeking to succeed Mayor Bloomberg in office.
That’s why he’s urging others to lend their support as well.
“I think it would be helpful if businesses who already have paid sick days and have shown that it really helps their productivity and doesn’t hurt their bottom line, if they would come forward and share their stories with Speaker Quinn,” Dr. Jordan said. “That would probably help.”
At least two deaths in New York City – both of them children – have been attributed to this year’s especially nasty outbreak of the flu. The New York State Board of Health and the New York City Board of Health urge anyone suffering from the flu to stay home from work so that they will not infect others.
"I don't want what happened to me to happen to any other worker," Palaguachi said. "Workers like me need paid sick days and we need protection in our workplace. We have been fighting for this right for a long time, but this flu epidemic shows once again how important it is for all New Yorkers to have paid sick days. We would like to see the paid sick days bill passed by the New York City Council this year."
Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road New York – one of the most vocal grassroots organizations fighting for passage of the Paid Sick Leave Act – said that both customers and workers should be outraged that hundreds of thousands of employees lack these basic protections.
“We have to do away once and for all with the notion that middle and lower income workers are easily replaced, and because of that are not entitled to considerations, like paid sick time, that higher income workers generally receive, Valdes said."