To celebrate the historic contributions that workers have made to our country, Americans took a day off this week.
Well, not all of them.
For workers like Minerva, a domestic worker in Brooklyn, time off is near impossible to come by. With a mother suffering from chronic illness and a 7-year-old son who is hospitalized regularly because of severe allergies, she runs out of sick days faster than she can accrue them. Minerva cobbles together three or more part-time jobs, and picks up extra shifts to make up for any missed time. But she often loses jobs simply for requesting time to care for her family.
Even in progressive New York City, there are about one million workers like Minerva, who don’t receive any paid personal time from their employers. That means no vacations, no days off to attend important family events or observe religious holidays, no time to deal with extended emergencies, and no time to just unwind.
The City Council has an opportunity to fix this glaring inequity. Mayor de Blasio has made a groundbreaking proposal to guarantee 10 days of paid personal time each year for workers. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has sponsored legislation to make this a reality for 3.4-million working New Yorkers. The Council should act on it this month.
Paid personal time is both a fundamental right for workers and an essential component of a happy, healthy life. When tragedy and hardship hit home, like the loss of a loved one or a sick parent, the ability to take time off is even more essential. Imagine missing out on a day’s pay to attend your mother’s funeral. Or losing your job because of the time needed to deal with a fire or flood at home.
The people most likely not to have paid personal time have low-income jobs. Many are immigrant women of color working in restaurants, nail salons or in other people’s homes as caregivers and cleaners. They are often caregivers for their own families as well.
?When employers deny these workers time off, they deny their humanity and dignity. They keep families from spending time together. They enable harmful stress to build and build until it spills over into all aspects of life.
Some businesses have expressed concerns about the costs of the plan, but the costs of inaction are much higher. Studies show that workers who can take time off are more productive, and their workplaces have higher morale. And the paid personal time bill before the Council allows employers to develop reasonable leave coordination policies to make sure too many people aren’t out at once, and shifts are covered during the busiest times.
Other opponents have argued that requests for time off should be handled privately between employer and employee. But negotiation is out of the question when just asking for a day off is enough to get you fired. Domestic workers in particular are up against a long history of exploitation and deliberate, discriminatory exclusion from workplace protections.
The proposal also corrects a past imbalance affecting domestic workers. Led by the mayor, New York City has guaranteed the right to paid sick leave for workers, as well as paid safe leave for people who have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking.
While most workers are now guaranteed five sick and safe leave days in a year, domestic workers are only guaranteed two. The paid personal time legislation will ensure that all domestic workers can accrue five full paid days of sick and safe leave as well as the ten paid days of personal leave.
The City Council has helped establish New York City as a progressive leader in modern-day labor policy, and our economy has never been stronger. Paid personal time is the next frontier. It’s time we catch up to every other industrialized country in the world. It’s time for the Council to pass paid personal time into law.
Poo is director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. McCray is first lady of the city of New York.