January 6, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Mayor Bill de Blasio made “We won’t wait,” a mantra during his inaugural address this week, squarely placing the expansion of the Paid Sick Leave Law among the top five items on his mayoral “To-Do List.” But advocates for the hardworking waiters and waitresses throughout the city still afraid to miss work due to illness, insist that the elimination of the “shift swap” provision contained in the current law, must also be a part of the new mayor’s reform efforts.
“We will expand the Paid Sick Leave law – because no one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes,” Mayor de Blasio said. “And by this time next year, fully 300,000 additional New Yorkers will be protected by that law. We won’t wait.”
The current Sick Leave Law crafted last spring, was a landmark achievement in many respects, extending protections to roughly a million workers. Many others, however, were not included in those protections. Workers in the manufacturing industry were largely left out, and restaurant workers say that the despised “shift swap” provision prevents employees from picking up an extra shift after recovering from an illness.
That’s because any subsequent shift worked immediately following an illness neutralizes the paid sick day that an employee might have been granted.
"We are looking forward to working with the new mayor to expand the paid sick days law to cover the 300,000 workers who were left out,” said Rahul Sakena, policy director for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York. “Expansion of the law also means elimination of the harmful "shift swap" provision that denies restaurant workers and other shift workers the absolute right to paid sick days by making them choose between picking up an extra shift or taking a paid sick day.”
During his address, Mayor de Blasio stressed that the successful implementation of his pro-worker, progressive agenda largely depends on grassroots, bottom-up support.
“You must continue to make your voices heard,” Mayor de Blasio told supporters. “You must be a the center of this debate. And our work begins now.”
For many struggling waiters and waitresses earning less than the minimum wage, working as many shifts as possible is the only way to make ends meet. Having to trade in a paid sick day effectively negates any gains they might have achieved by working harder.
Advocates also maintain that the shift-swaping provision gives employers the "green-light" to continue requiring sick workers to find someone else to cover their missed shifts.
Throughout his inaugural address, Mayor de Blasio referenced progressive leaders and activists – including Franklin Roosevelt, Fiorello La Guardia and others – who strove to protect and expand workers’ rights.
“From Jacob Riis to Eleanor Roosevelt to Harry Belafonte – who we are honored to have with us here today – it was New Yorkers who challenged the status quo, who blazed a trail of progressive reform and political action, who took on the elite, who stood up to say that social and economic justice will start here and will start now,” Mayor de Blasio said.