Democratic county legislators have reintroduced a bill they believe will make Westchester a healthier county.
Majority Leader Catherine Borgia announced the Employee Earned Paid Sick Time bill at a recent press conference in White Plains. It would permit employees in the county to accumulate one hour of sick time at their hourly rate of pay for every 30 hours of work.
The proposed law would apply to employers with at least five employees and allow workers to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. Those sick days could be used for an employee’s mental or physical illness or to care for a sick family member.
“People deserve to stay home when they’re sick,” Borgia, an Ossining Democrat, said. “It’s just common sense.”
Democratic legislators said the bill will allow workers to take care of themselves, their loved ones and by extension the community by not spreading illnesses.
According to an August 2016 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, approximately 36 percent of workers in Westchester County lack paid sick time, and many of them are low-wage workers. Fifty-four percent of service workers and 52 percent of construction, natural resources and maintenance workers are not covered for paid sick time, the institute found.
Legislators were joined at the press conference by members of a community and labor coalition made up of representatives from organizations including the New York State Nurses Association and the Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body.
The bill was initially introduced last year, though it failed to become law. Borgia hopes that with the 12-member supermajority the Democrats now have in the 17-member legislature, the bill will fare better this time around. All members of the Democratic caucus have co-sponsored the legislation, she said.
“We want this now,” said Ben Boykin, a White Plains Democrat and chair of the Board of Legislators. “And with the supermajority, we’re going to get it now.”
If the legislation is passed, Westchester would join New York City as the second jurisdiction in the state to have an earned sick-leave law. Seven states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, have adopted similar legislation, along with 40 local governments nationwide.
Legislators noted they believe this measure would be beneficial to not only the public’s health, but also for the business community.
“People will not be willing to shop and eat and go to the movies and so on if people are coughing and sneezing all over them,” said Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky.
Borgia added there could be other economic benefit for employers.
“It costs them money to pay people when they’re sick, but the other side, the gains, have been increased productivity, reducing the spread of illness and also employee loyalty,” she said. “When you know your employer cares about you, cares when you are sick, cares when your children are sick, you are more likely to stay in that position.”
Some, however, question how this legislation would impact the day-to-day operations of local businesses.
“I think what we need to do is look at what some of the question marks could be, what some of the issues that could come up are,” said John Ravitz, executive vice president of the Business Council of Westchester. “We’re not just talking about major corporations, we’re talking about small mom-and-pop businesses, we’re talking about nonprofits.”
Ravitz said he and other members of the Business Council met with legislators earlier this week to discuss the proposed bill. He said the group offered to host roundtable discussions to connect legislators with business owners.
“What we really want to do is to extend a bridge for legislators, so that before they actually write legislation, they can talk to business owners to see how this is going to affect them,” Ravitz said.
Borgia said the bill will likely be discussed at the board’s Feb. 26 meeting. She said she hoped the bill could be passed by late March or early April.