Michael Bloomberg: New York Mayor Proposes Pro-Business Sick Day Law

The New York City council voted 45-3 last week to expand legally-required paid sick leave for some city businesses, well above the two-thirds majority necessary to override billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s promised veto attempt, and further highlighting the unlikely political dance that Bloomberg has played between conservative, liberal, and watchful big-brother.

Under the new law, set to go into effect on April 1, 2014, New York employers of 20 or more employees will be required to offer each up to five paid sick days per year. By October 2015, employers with 15 or more employees will be required to do the same.

An additional one million New Yorkers will be eligible for paid time off within the next two years.

“This legislation fully recognizes the importance of protecting the cities’ economy, and locks in protections to ensure that it’s implementation is pegged to continue recovery,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “This is a bill that hits the right balance for workers but does it in a fair way for the establishments that employ workers.”

The mayor was less than pleased, however, calling the plan “short-sighted economic policy.”

He explained that some companies “just don’t have the capacity to pay extra, and five days is a lot of extra salaries for them … History shows that an awful lot of people will take those days whether they’re sick or not. And some companies are just going to lay off a person or two to get below the limit or they’ll go out of business.”

Bloomberg defies many notions of contemporary politics — a Republican-turned-Independent, in support of Wall Street and abortion rights and Obama, of all things. In his own words, he’s “the fiscally conservative, pro-choice, anti-smoking, anti-trans-fat Jewish billionaire mayor of the World’s Greatest City.”

If it sounds like it’s tough to be all those things all the time, that’s because it is.

Especially having spent the last few years of his office butting up against frustrated business owners in an increasingly personal battle over his city’s public health — most recent were his controversial ban on large sizes of sugary drinks, struck down last month by a New York judge, and another to prohibit business owners from publicly displaying cigarettes and tobacco products. He has previously championed an extensive city-wide smoking ban, trans-fat ban, and has recently announced support of raising the city smoking age to 21.

“It’s another example of this guy trying to advance his social agenda while disregarding business,” said an upset Brad Gerstman, of the New York Association of Grocery Stores, referring to the proposal to prohibit the visual displays of tobacco products.

Muhamad Hossan, owner of an East Village bodega, was similarly frustrated: “Why am I supposed to hide?” he asked. “What I sell is legal. It’s all legal. If I can’t display, I can’t sell. Business is bad enough already.”

When asked whether he was perpetuating a “nanny state,” Bloomberg replied proudly: “We should be trying to help each other and save lives.” 

So why is the chameleon politician so staunchly pro-business on issues of sick days, and less so on issues of sickness? It seems like another attempt to find the perfect sweet spot that has eluded politicians for decades — to romance the business-minded and the gay-rights-activated, all at once. To swoon Wall Street bureaucrats and liberal progressives, investors and pro-choicers, all with a wit and a charm that makes people forget that it’s really, really hard sometimes to be everything for everyone. 

Especially the people who call in sick.