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Year of stalling: Progressive candidates in NYC elections seek paid sick leave for gig workers

Council Member and Comptroller candidate Brad Lander pushed for essential "gig workers" to receive paid sick leave at a rally outside of City Hall.
Photo by Dean Moses

Essential workers were hailed during the brink of the pandemic for putting their lives on the line while others quarantined, but several of these “gig workers” were not, and are still not, afforded paid sick leave. 

On April 14, Councilmember and Comptroller candidate Brad Lander and several other candidates for New York City offices rallied outside of City Hall to push for legislation that would allow app-based delivery, for-hire vehicle drivers, and other “gig workers” to have access to paid sick leave going forward.

The novel coronavirus changed the way in which every facet of New York City runs. Lander emphasized this, noting that last spring New Yorkers sheltered in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while essential workers put their lives at risk.

“Last spring, almost every night at seven, New Yorkers would lean out of their windows and gather on their stoops to bang pots, ring bells, or clap or cheer for the essential workers who were getting us through the pandemic and we tried to make our voices loud enough so it would be heard in the hospitals and where people were providing healthcare. But the most likely essential workers to go by when you were cheering, especially at 7pm, was a food delivery worker on a bike delivering for DoorDash or Instacart making it possible for us to stay home while other folks were doing the essential work and saving lives,” said Councilmember Lander, adding, “But one thing we did not see, or at least say loud enough, was those very workers lacked paid sick leave and they cannot take a paid day off when they are sick. That is not how New York City should treat essential workers.”

Candidates for New York City Council and advocates shared the importance of supporting essential “gig workers.” Photo by Dean Moses

The pandemic exacerbated disparities amongst Black and Brown communities as well as added discrepancies toward access to health care, food and other needs.  It is through this inequity that COVID-19 was able to further devastate New York City coupled with the over 30,000 people who perished from the virus. Lander and his fellow candidates expressed their hope that leaders learn from the crisis and do the right thing for essential workers, especially “gig workers” who have been misclassified as such and are left out of workplace protections and benefits.  

These advocates are pushing for the Inro. 1926, which they say has been stalled within City Council leadership since last May. Lander demanded that legislators amend the Earned Safe and Sick Leave Law to cover over 140,000 essential workers, who he believes has been misclassified as “gig workers” leaving them to put their lives at risk with no access to benefits.

“But now here we are nine months later and those 140,000 essential workers still cannot take a paid day off when they are sick. So, if they wake up not feeling well or if their kid is sick, they still have to choose between their job and their health,” Lander said, adding, “Stop stalling Speaker it’s time to bring the bill to the floor of City Council and let it pass so we can provide paid sick leave to those 140,000 essential “gig workers.””

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer also voiced his support for the Into. 1926. Photo by Dean Moses

In response to Lander’s comment on the New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for sitting on the bill, a representative for City Council stated that Johnson has been a strong advocate for workers and thinks of the rally as a publicity stunt than a genuine effort for “gig workers.”

 “The Speaker has a strong record advocating for workers during this pandemic, including passing just cause legislation for fast food employees.  Given the concerns with this legislation expressed by Committee Chair Miller, it seems more productive for Council Member Lander to work with colleagues and build consensus around this issue rather than hosting another political rally and building his name id,” said Jennifer Fermino, a spokeswoman for the New York City Council.

Glendy Tsitouras of Worker’s Justice Project shared the plight of many app-based workers who have been labeled independent contractors. She said that many of the delivery bike riders have to purchase their own PPE and do not have any basic worker rights, not even the ability to use the bathroom or sit in a safe space to eat their lunch.

These workers are forced to spend every moment of their day outside exposed to all sorts of inclement weather, such as winter storms, a downpour of rain, and scorching heat waves.

“When COVID-19 started, the delivery workers work in the street feeding New York City; however, the apps never provide them sick days or PPE. The workers have to buy everything to do delivery,” Tsitouras said, emphasizing that paid sick leave would give these workers a much needed relief.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller also weighed in on this morning rally led by Lander. 

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, and among the very first actions we took when I was named chairman seven years ago was to pass a new paid sick days law for New Yorkers. Essential to that process, and the amendments and updates we’ve made to this historic law since 2014, has been continued public discourse. As a City Council, we have a responsibility to ensure that legislation passed reflects the needs and values of New Yorkers, and that includes promoting good jobs, fair compensation and protections for working people,” said Councilmember I. Daneek Miller, Chair of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, and Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

“Within the past three years we’ve heard 33 bills in the labor committee and passed 21 of them. While well-intentioned, Introduction 1926 hasn’t cut the mustard. The bill received overwhelmingly negative feedback from nonprofits, social service providers and local businesses, and the bill sponsor never addressed that feedback with myself as the committee chair, or members of the public who expressed concern about the legislation. The City Council has an obligation to support working families, and that starts with prioritizing public discourse and ensuring that legislation is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of New York’s communities,” Councilmember Miller added.

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