Community in Action
Examples of programs, policies, and tools in action.

Working Toward Paid Sick Leave in New York City

February 24, 2014

A 2009 campaign to pass a local law requiring paid sick days was launched in New York City after the Community Service Society (CSS), anti-poverty advocates since 1843, released research showing that few of the city’s low income workers had paid sick leave. Many of these individuals ended up working while sick, sending ill children to school, or seeking emergency room services after work for care. This initiative was a new prong in CSS’s fight against poverty, framing paid sick leave as a basic labor standard. 

“When a child wakes up in the morning throwing up or running a fever, imagine you’re that low income working mom worried, asking yourself, What if I keep him home? Can I just give him a Tylenol, send him to school and hope? If I stay home, am I going to lose my job?—people shouldn’t have to make those kinds of choices,” says Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at CSS.

CSS began their advocacy campaign, working with a broad-based coalition of low income workers, public health advocates, and work-family legal experts to build support for the ordinance. The grassroots organizing part of the campaign centered in four areas of the Bronx and Brooklyn, where many low-wage workers live. Ongoing research, events, round tables and media coverage raised awareness of the scope of the problem and sought to answer questions about how paid sick days would affect New Yorkers’ jobs and businesses. Throughout the campaign, participants reached out to individuals affected by lack of sick leave, shared their compelling stories at events and online, signed and circulated petitions, and kept the issue in the news during races for mayor and city council. 

Despite the opposition of some big businesses, the Earned Sick Time Act was passed in June 2013, with the city council overriding a veto by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The new law went into effect on April 1, 2014.

“What passed is a huge accomplishment,” says Rankin. “We covered nearly a million workers who have gained paid sick days who did not have a single paid sick day before. Having nearly a million workers, mostly low wage workers, gain paid sick days is a huge victory.”

The initial bill was a compromise that applied largely to employers with 20 or more employees. Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an expansion into law on March 20, 2014, requiring all employers of 5 or more workers to provide 5 paid sick days to their employees. Employees in businesses with less than 5 workers are guaranteed 5 unpaid sick days.This is not the end for CSS as their team continues to work on paid sick leave following passage of the law, educating workers about their new rights and employers of the new requirements. 

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Communities in Action provide examples of strategies or tools in action. Their purpose is to connect like-minded communities in their implementation efforts, giving insight into how others are tackling key challenges and what they've accomplished. To learn more about the evidence supporting this strategy's effectiveness or resources to help move towards implementation, see the What Works for Health summary of Paid sick leave ordinances.

Date added: March 26, 2014