At long last, a deal has been reached to put forward a bill allowing paid sick leave for (full-time at 20 employee plus firms) New York City workers. The Paid Sick Leave bill had be on hold for three years as Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn single-handedly held it from being voted on. The first version of the bill would require companies that employ at least 15 workers to give their full-time employees five paid sick days per year. The final bill is reported to increase the number of employees at a firm to 20 or more and does not take effect until 2014, and can be reversed if the city’s economic climate deteriorates according to measure from the New York Federal Reserve. It’s not perfect, but it is a major achievement on the part of the political will of progressive city council members and labor unions who supported the bill. It also makes New York City the largest city in the U.S. to pass legislation ensuring paid sick leave, hopefully signifying a turning tide in labor market policies. The city can be an incubator for larger state- or federal-level policy.
Paid sick leave is particularly important to women workers who need the sick days not only for their own health, but often in order to take care of sick children or other dependent family members. Women are more likely to be the heads of single parent households, and even in two parent households women are more likely to be expected to be relied on for childcare and eldercare by taking the time off of work when needed to do this. This is not to say that all women are expected to care for their families in ways that men are not, but unfortunately this is the case for many women and it has serious effects for their labor market participation. So the lack of paid sick leave policy leaves women at a particular disadvantage since they are not as free to engage in labor market opportunities that may be more fulfilling or lucrative, but without the flexibility needed to care for their families. Feminist economist Nancy Folbre referred to the lack of policy that support women’s labor market participation as patriarchal policy and the pauperization of motherhood in the Review of Radical Political Economics in 1984, and unfortunately these policies have remained in the U.S. for almost 30 years since Folbre wrote on the subject.
The imminent passage of this bill in New York City, after other cities like Portland and Washington DC have already passed similar measures, hopefully signifies a turning tide toward policy that enables women workers the full opportunities afforded to many male workers. It is good news for all women workers in the U.S., not just in NYC.