1 City's Push to Be First With Paid Vacation for All Private-Sector Workers

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that he would back legislation to require private employers in New York City to offer at least two weeks of paid vacation annually to their workers, a law he said would be the first of its kind in the nation.
by | January 10, 2019 AT 7:25 AM

By Jillian Jorgensen

New Yorkers may soon have a right to relax.

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that he would back legislation to require private employers in New York City to offer at least two weeks of paid vacation annually to their workers, a law he said would be the first of its kind in the nation.

"It's 2019, it's time to treat people decently -- it's time to value people, not just see them as cogs in the machine, but people who deserve to live life fully," de Blasio said.

But while de Blasio enjoyed a splashy roll-out of the idea in the Washington Post, the proposed perk has been on the table before -- Councilman Jumaane Williams first introduced legislation requiring vacation time back in 2014, the first year of Mayor de Blasio's first term as mayor. Now, in the second year of his second term, the Mayor is on board -- rattling off a list of industrialized nations that require vacation time and arguing it's past time the city do so.

"Guess what? We're the exception and it's a bad exception," de Blasio said. "It's time for us to change and that changes begins here in New York City and it begins now."

The city estimated that there are 500,000 New Yorkers who do not get any paid vacation time, a figure reached using federal labor and Census data that was applied to the city workforce. The population includes restaurant employees, non-union hotel workers, fast food employees and others, de Blasio said.

Williams -- who is a front-runner in the race for public advocate -- joined de Blasio at the press conference. He said people often go without vacations -- either because culturally they've been made to feel bad for taking time off, or because they aren't offered paid time away from work.

"The reasons for that is the love of this," he said, holding up a dollar bill. "The love of this has caused all manner of abuse on workers...And we're starting today to say that the love of this is not more important than the people behind me"

The proposal is likely to become a factor in the public advocate's race -- not only did the idea begin with Williams, it was opposed by many pols at the time, including then-speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, according to Crain's. Mark-Viverito is also a leading candidate for public advocate.

De Blasio's proposal calls for employers with five or more employees to provide up to 10 days of paid personal time a year, which employees would have to accrue. They would be able to take the time off after 120 days of working, and employers would be able to require two weeks notice of when an employee wanted time off to make scheduling easier. Workers would accrue an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours they work.

Hizzoner was otherwise short on details Wednesday, demurring when asked what fines businesses might face for breaking the law or what kind of phase-in period there would be, saying that would be part of the legislative process.

But he drew parallels between the proposal and the city's paid sick time law, passed in 2013, which provides most businesses to provide five paid sick days to workers and which was phased in alongside education programs for business owners before fines went into effect.

De Blasio also cited paid sick time in saying he believed the city had the authority to require employers to provide vacation time.

"It was not only passed, but it's gone five years without being successfully challenged," de Blasio said.

The plan would not cover all workers in the city -- those who freelance, or who work regularly for the same employer but are working on a contract basis will not be eligible for the vacation time.

"The law does not apply to freelancers," Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelai Salas said, adding that the city is always looking out for instances when companies misclassify an employee as a freelancer.

De Blasio said the city builds policy "step-by-step."

"There's a real challenge for workers that are a part of the economy who are harder to reach, harder to regulate," he acknowledged.

The proposal was met with opposition from the business community.

"Mayor de Blasio's proposal to force businesses in the city to give two weeks of paid vacation to every employee is another example of municipal overreach into the city's private sector economy," Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, said. "Most New York City employers are doing whatever they can to attract and keep good workers and do not need the government dictating their benefit policies."

But de Blasio, anticipating such criticism, insisted the skeptics often predict such changes will hurt the economy -- and had been wrong before.

"We heard it when we started paid sick leave," de Blaisio said. "I think New York City's economy is doing pretty well right now, don't you?"

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