Ahead of the first state legislative sessions of the year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intentions to guarantee Paid Personal Time for all workers in the city. There are currently half a million working New Yorkers whose employers don’t grant them any time off, something de Blasio states describes as putting the US behind the rest of the world.
“Every other major nation recognizes the necessity of Paid Personal Time,” de Blasio stated. “We as a country must get there, and New York City will lead the way.”
While many white-collar workers with full-time jobs enjoy paid time off through their employers, many workers in lower-paid, part-time or precarious employment aren’t granted the same rights. According to de Blasio’s office, there are 90,000 and 200,000 workers in the retail and hospitality/food service industries, respectively, who have to choose between spending time with their families and putting food on the table.
“It’s clear to me that too often, Americans are overworked and undervalued,” said Councilmember and Public Advocate candidate Jumaane Williams, who proposed legislation to guarantee paid time off as early as 2014. “That’s inexcusable, and it’s time to change. It’s time to give working people a break.”
As proposed by Mayor de Blasio, the Paid Personal Time legislation would require all business with five or more employees to give at least ten days of paid time off per year. Workers would have the right to use this time for any reason they choose, though the Mayor will allow businesses to require up to two weeks of notice, and have “reasonable exceptions for granting leave.” Additionally, workers would not qualify for Paid Personal Time until 120 days of employment, and unused time off would carry over into the following year.
This benefit, the Mayor’s office was quick to add, does not substitute for the five days of Paid Sick Leave the state mandated back in 2014.
“One of the labor movement’s most important struggles historically has been for workers to have time for themselves and their families,” said Dr. Barbara Bowen, president of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress.
Assuming the proposed legislation becomes law, enforcement of its policies is another matter entirely. Workers in hospitality, retail and food service currently have several rights on paper that do not exist in practice. Technically, employers are required to bring tipped workers’ wages up to the state-mandated minimum of $15 per hour if they are not tipped enough to reach the threshold on their own, but many of these workers report rampant wage theft by business owners taking tips. Food service and hospitality workers report rates of sexual harassment three times higher than those in professional services, because of power imbalances between employer and employee. And because New York is an at-will employment state, business owners can freely retaliate against workers attempting to exercise their rights, because owners can fire any employee without needing to give a reason.
“Paid time off is crucial, especially for the lowest wage workers who are least likely to have it,” said Dahlia McManus, deputy director of the New York Working Families Party. “That’s flexibility that some may take for granted, but too many working families in New York simply don’t have.”
It remains to be seen what the effects of the proposed bill will be.