Anti-Quinn vote in New York City raises hopes for paid family leave in Albany
After Democratic voters handed a decisive victory to Bill de Blasio and a stunning rebuke to Christine Quinn, a privately commissioned poll found that the Council speaker's equivocation on paid sick leave may have made them less likely to vote for her.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling at the behest of the Rockefeller Family Fund, and provided to Capital by the fund, asked 594 Democratic voters if Quinn's opposition to allowing a vote on paid sick days for three years made them less likely to vote for her. (Quinn, if you'll recall, only ended up supporting the bill after de Blasio made it impossible for her not to). Fifty-five percent said yes.
Seventy-three percent agreed with the statement that they were "more likely to vote for a candidate who supports policies like paid sick days and other issues that help working families make ends meet" versus a candidate "who supports policies that keep costs low for businesses to help them grow, even if it means opposing paid sick days."
This was particularly true for women voters.
Advocates for a different working family-friendly policy are seizing on those results as leverage in their bid to get paid family leave passed in Albany.
"The governor has indicated he’s very interested in family leave insurance," said Donna Dolan, chair of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, last Friday. "He indicated it through his lieutenants that we have been talking to for the past year and a half."
The governor's office had no comment.
Right now, New Yorkers who want to take time off to care of ailing loved ones are allowed to do so without fearing for the jobs, but only if they work for companies with more than 50 employees in a 75-mile radius. Also, their employers don't have to pay them unless they want to. (New Yorkers have the federal government's 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act to thank for that level job protection.)
At the local level, New York has an insurance program requiring businesses to provide up to 26 weeks of temporary disability insurance (TDI) for employees that suffer from "non occupational illnesses" like cancer. But it only covers the employee. It does nothing for employees who want to care for sick relatives.
That means that should your child or parent or spouse fall suddenly ill, you can take time off to care for that person (thanks to the federal law), but only if you work for a big employer. And unless that employer is a generous one, she will not be required to pay you.
Dolan has been trying to change that for years now.
In 2005 and 2007, the New York State Assembly passed a bill to expand TDI to provide paid leave to New Yorkers with family health emergencies. But it has never won much support in either the Senate or the governor's mansion.
"Governor Spitzer was in favor of paid family leave," said Dolan. "And had he not resigned, I think we would have paid family leave in New York State today.
Now she's trying again.
The new paid family leave bill would apply to nearly all New York State employees, and provide them with up to 12 weeks of paid leave under the state's temporary disability insurance program. It would increase the insurance payment cap from its $170-a-week level, which dates back to 1989.
The bill would also impact maternity leave.
Right now, new mothers get six weeks of partially paid leave under state law (eight weeks for a cesarean). The bill would increase that to 12.
Advocates argue the program could be fully funded via a surcharge on an employee's payroll of about 58 cents a week.
Though the bill has a Democratic sponsor in the Senate, it is by no means assured passage there, despite the Independent Democratic Conference co-leadership's support for the bill as part of its women's equality agenda last session.
Right now, only three other states have this type of thing: New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California.
"I think there’s going to be a real strong effort this year to put this thing out there," said Catherine Nolan, the bill's sponsor in the Assembly. "Governor Cuomo has some interest. And that’s kind of what's reignited some of the people who are so involved in this."
That, and maybe what happened to Christine Quinn.