Brooklyn Brewery president says paid sick leave ‘would be very difficult for a lot of very small companies’

Hindy, to Bloomberg's left. (Spencer T Tucker)
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Brooklyn Brewery president Steve Hindy, a prominent businessman who earlier this month came out in support of the “living wage” legislation then under consideration in the City Council, does not plan to similarly speak out in favor of paid sick leave.

“I’m not taking a position in favor of that, the paid sick leave,” said Hindy in a phone conversation with Capital. “I think it would be very difficult for a lot of very small companies.”

"I’m not a politician, I’m a beer salesman," he hastened to add.

The paid sick leave bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Gale Brewer and heavily backed by unions, would require most employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works.

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The bill is believed to have a veto-proof majority in the City Council, but speaker Christine Quinn has refused to let it come up for a vote. Proponents of the bill have in recent days offered to carve out exemptions for new small businesses and for businesses with fewer than five employees. Yesterday, Quinn said she hadn't seen the proposed amendments, and once again declined to express any support for the measure.

"As I said over a year or so ago now, I think the sponsors and proponents of paid sick leave, their goal is a laudable one," said Quinn. "That said, in the economic environment we are in, small businesses are hanging on by a thread in many cases, and I think although this goal is laudable, it’s not one that I could support because I think it is one that could cost us jobs, and cost us small businesses and their future in these tough economic times."

Earlier this month, the living wage bill was in a similar predicament. The legislation would have required a small number of city-subsidized developers, and their retail tenants, to pay employees $10 an hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without. The state minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

On Jan. 6, the Living Wage Coalition NYC, backed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, trotted out Hindy's endorsement of living wage as evidence that a healthy business and enlightened employment practices could happily coexist.

"When large developers and companies benefiting from subsidies boost wages, everyone wins: more working people are self-sufficient, more demand for products and services is generated and consumer spending at businesses of all sizes increases," said Hindy in a statement at the time. "This legislation tells the private sector that government wants to incentivize a higher-wage economy that will enable New York City to maintain its competitive advantage. It’s the right message to send.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn ultimately negotiated a compromise living wage bill that exempted retail tenants. She managed to get both the city's business establishment and the union-backed Living Wage Coalition NYC on board, even though the latter had formerly called such a compromise "a fraud."

Today, Hindy said he was always troubled by the inclusion of retail tenants in the bill.

"It did seem unfair that the benefit of the subsidy might go to the developer, and you know the retailer would have no gain from that, but would be required to pay the higher wage," said Hindy.

Of the ensuing compromise legislation, he added, "I think it’s probably about the best that can be achieved at the moment, you know with the mayor’s position and Christine Quinn’s position."