8:27 am Sep. 20, 2012
At the Stonewall Democrats meeting in Chelsea last night, City Councilmember Gale Brewer said she's unsure if her Paid Sick Leave bill would pass the 51-member Council, even though it currently has 37 co-sponsors.
Brewer used that uncertainty to explain why she's continuing to negotiate a compromise on the bill with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a leading mayoral candidate who's expressed support for the concept of the bill, but has not brought the bill for a vote. Brewer said nearly every aspect of the bill—which is supported by progressives and organized labor, and opposed by the mayor and business interests—is up for negotiation, leaving plenty of room for a compromise.
The audience there didn't react much to the specifics of a potential compromise—whether the bill had a set number of sick days, or exempted bars, or had a carve-out for newly opened businesses. It seemed, from the muted reaction of the crowd, that any bill called Paid Sick Leave, if it became law, would be considered a victory.
The only contentious moment of the evening was when one of the panelists, a successful bar and restaurant owner named Michael Sinensky, argued against the legislation by painting himself, rather than his employees—some of whom make minimum wage—as a victim of the tough economy.
"I feel sorry for them because they have to live here, just like you do," said Marty Algaze, a club member, as Sinensky slumped back in his chair. "Before three years ago, when you were making all this money, you were making a hell of a lot of money. Now, the economy is bad. Maybe we have too many restaurants in this city. Maybe you have too many businesses."
The exchange helped demonstrate the public relations challenges of opposing the bill, and especially of using bar and restaurant owners as the face of that opposition. While the owners portray themselves as small, mom-and-pop business people, the employees often invite just as much sympathy.
When Sinensky and another panelist, Tony Juliano, who also leads the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, said some bartenders make close to $100,000 a year, it was met with disbelief by most in the crowd.
But Sinensky argued that owning a business has its own personal costs.
In his opening remarks, Sinensky—who runs Hudson Terrace, two Village Pourhouse establishments, SideBar and Vintage Irving—said he's nearly gone bankrupt trying to keep his businesses afloat. He said he's given zero-interest loans to employees, and spoke about mortgaging his home when he needed to bankroll a multi-year lawsuit just to open one bar in the city.
After Algaze's comments, Sinensky said, "I've almost bankrupted myself and my family trying to employ people that you're trying to protect."