Christine Quinn blinded by self-interestPosted on September 5, 2013 | by Raj Mathur
Syria has been ravaged by civil war. Somalia is, for all intents and purposes, a failed state. And the United States — well, the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world. For all their differences, these three countries have one commonality — they do not guarantee paid sick leave. Indeed, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not require its employers to provide paid sick days.
There are pockets of America that have recognized the necessity of providing funds for those on sick leave, however, and New York City is among them. Since June 2013, the city has required that businesses with more than 15 employees provide five paid sick days per year to each employee. New York City mayoral candidate and current City Council Speaker Christine Quinn played a central role in this law’s passage. However, it was not in the manner one may expect from Quinn, a self-proclaimed champion of the working class. Initially, as a City Council speaker, Quinn not only opposed providing the city’s residents paid sick days for years, but she also refused to let the bill come to a vote.
Quinn’s obstruction was ruthlessly political. She has always desired to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor — and the Wall Street and big business donors she needed were staunchly opposed to the measure. It was clear that if a vote were allowed, the bill would pass. Therefore, despite the needs of millions of New Yorkers, Quinn blocked the vote on the grounds that it would shudder small businesses.
However, a study from the National Partnership for Women and Families shows that paid sick leave reduces employee turnover, increases productivity, lowers healthcare costs and prevents the spread of infectious diseases. This breadth of evidence did not sway Quinn. Only when blocking the bill was doing more political harm than good — feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem refused to endorse Quinn and there was growing discontent on the left — did she allow City Council to vote on the bill.
Quinn blocked the bill as it would have angered her special interest donors. Yet, her actions are troubling on a deeper level. The story of paid sick leave is evocative of how Quinn would govern as a mayor — in a manner antithetical to the democratic spirit of New York City. There are 48 members of the City Council, 45 of whom voted to approve the measure. An October 2012 poll showed that 83 percent of city residents backed paid sick leave. Despite this overwhelming support, Quinn single-handedly blocked the measure and with it, the democratic process. Quinn made it clear that she was not interested in an open and honest debate or having the city’s elected Council actually represent its constituents, but only her future career.
The story of how paid sick leave became law shows Quinn as not only beholden to special interest but also how out of touch she is with the democratic spirit of New York City. This sheds serious doubt on her narrative as a transparent politician working for the average New Yorker.
Raj Mathur is a contributing columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.