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Small Business Employees in New York, Many of Them Immigrants, March to Demand Paid Sick Time

By Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes, FI2W Contributor
Guillermo Barrera says he was firedafter he asked his boss for a day off due to illness. (Photo: Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes)

Guillermo Barrera says he was fired after he asked his boss for a day off due to illness. (Photos: Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes – Click for more)

Hundreds of workers marched over the Brooklyn Bridge last Thursday calling on New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to support a bill that requires local small businesses to provide paid sick days to employees.

The bill would address cases like that of Guillermo Barrera.

Barrera, an immigrant from Mexico and a father of two, was showcased by the organizers as the quintessential example of what workers without sick-day rights endure.

He said he was fired September 18th from his job of seven years as a cook at a Brooklyn restaurant, because he felt too sick to work and asked his boss for the day off.

“Many workers like myself cannot miss a day of work or get sick because of fear of losing our jobs,” Barrera said. “Especially in the current economy, many workers suffer mistreatments from their bosses.”

In New York City, organizers said, over 900,000 workers, many of them immigrants, do not get a single paid sick day, either for themselves or to care for a sick child.

The lack of regulation in this area has caused many workers to be fired, suspended, or threatened by their employers. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Manhattan City Council Member Gail Brewer, would give workers the right to nine paid sick days a year.

Javier Valdez, deputy director of Make the Road New York, the activist organization spearheading the campaign for paid sick days, said that the bill already has the support of a majority of council members, but has yet to get Quinn’s backing.

Todays menu is: Germs, reads a sign held by Gloria Gonzalez, standing with Gustavo Gomez, both Mexican immigrants.

“Today’s menu is: Germs,” reads a sign held by Gloria Gonzalez, standing with Gustavo Gomez, both Mexican immigrants.

Mayor Bloomberg, who is running for a third term, has said he supports the concept of the bill but has yet to back the current legislative proposal. Organizers are expecting him to take a position before Election Day, on November 3rd.

 A protester held up a sign at the rally that took place in downtown Manhattan after the march.

A protester held up a sign at the rally that took place in downtown Manhattan after the march.

The premise of the bill is straightforward: All workers should have the right to days off work to deal with their own health or the health of a family member without risking their jobs. The need for sick-days benefits has become pressing these days after the recent H1N1 flu outbreak. According to CNNMoney, about half of America’s workers do not enjoy this right.

AboutMaibe Ponet
Maibe Ponet is a Venezuelan-American journalist. She is currently the Opinion Page Editor for El Diario La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States. She has worked as a reporter for leading Venezuelan national publications and was a staff writer for the Spanish language newspaper Hoy, where she covered local politics and NYC City Hall from 2002 to 2005. Following her departure from Hoy, she served as a press person for candidates, elected officials and city agencies, including the 2005 Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Education. Maibe is a former Independent Press Association Ethnic Journalism Fellow. She holds a BA in Journalism from the Central University of Venezuela, and a master's degree in Urban Policy and Management from The New School University.