OPINION: Paid-vacation mandate would hurt small biz

BY MONICA SAXENA | I wake up every morning excited to run my restaurant in Chelsea, serve my community and work alongside my staff. Our mission is the same every day: Provide the best dining experience and quality food to my neighbors, guests and the city’s tourists.

I work diligently with my staff of 14. Our team is comprised of hard-working first-generation Americans and immigrants like myself. Together, we work the frontline operations of the restaurant to ensure the best dining experience for our customers. On the back end, I work hard to provide my employees a good job and a positive work environment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to pass mandatory paid two-week vacations for all the city’s businesses. But the writer argues the burden would be too great on small businesses. (File photo by Donna Aceto)

I love the restaurant industry, but it is getting harder every day for restaurants like mine to survive in today’s business climate. Mayor de Blasio is now calling for an unfunded mandate that would require businesses like mine — with more than five employees — to provide two weeks of paid vacation time to employees. I appreciate the intentions behind this proposal, and I agree that we need to take care of our workers for their health and happiness.

However, the mayor’s current proposal would place the full cost and administrative burden of this new policy on small business owners like me, who are already trying to keep up with high labor costs, workers’ compensation insurance, liability insurance, rent, electricity, increased real estate taxes, licensing fees and all the other challenges of running a restaurant. Larger businesses may be able to absorb these costs, but my small business can no longer absorb rising expenses. Unfortunately, I can only charge my customers so much for the delicious Indian food we serve before we become unaffordable and customers no longer feel they are getting a good value.

My employees already earn the $15 minimum wage, and often more, especially those who earn tips. Mandating two weeks of paid vacation time for each worker would catapult my payroll costs. I imagine workers would want to take their time off on weekends and holidays, which is the busiest time for restaurants, so I would need to add employees, or pay an overtime rate to existing workers so I could run my restaurant and provide the level of service to which our guests have become accustomed. In today’s tight labor market, it would be hard to find replacement workers. This policy would compromise our food quality and customer service, and would tarnish my restaurant’s reputation and business, which in turn also would hurt my employees. If I’m lucky enough to cover employees’ shifts, it would cost me more because now I would be paying for two employees but only getting the output of one worker.

I believe in supporting the city’s working people, since I am one. But if this policy forces more small businesses across the city to cover rising costs, we would not be providing benefits for our workers; we would be putting them out of a job.

To support both working people and small businesses, the government should help fund and administer this benefit just like they do with paid family leave or even Social Security. Alternatively, the City Council could create a tax credit for the city’s mom-and-pop shops to offset rising operational costs. Mayor de Blasio and the City Council can’t keep asking more from small business owners like me, without doing anything to support the health of our businesses.

My restaurant provides good opportunities for New Yorkers and we serve the city’s residents and visitors faithfully. Small businesses are the foundation of the entrepreneurial culture for which New York City is known. We want to continue supporting our employees and serving our communities, but we can only do that with the city’s help.

Saxena is owner of aRoqa restaurant, at 206 Ninth Ave., between 22nd and 23rd Sts.