By J. Phillip Thompson
If you work hard and you don't get a break, it’s bad for your physical well-being. It’s bad for your mental health. It’s not fair for you or your family. It means having to choose between a paycheck and a parent–teacher conference. It means not having the time to help an elderly parent to a nursing home, to attend a wedding, to celebrate a religious holiday or cherished festival, to mourn the death of a loved one, or to take a much-needed vacation.
Yet, working without a break is all too common in this nation. In New York City alone, almost one million people cannot take a single day of paid personal time. That’s why Mayor Bill de Blasio has set New York City on course to be the first municipality in the United States to guarantee paid time off for workers, and I have news for anyone who thinks this will be controversial: we have the people on our side.
Let me point you to some of the other nations that already do this. In fact, it’s every other advanced economy on earth, including: Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Greece, the Netherlands, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, the United Kingdom, and France.
And Americans want the same thing. In a national poll of registered voters conducted this year by Data for Progress and YouGov Blue, 73 percent of voters think employers should be required to offer at least two weeks of paid vacation to their workers.
Just 15 percent believe that employers should not be required to provide any vacation time at all. Strong support for at least two weeks of paid vacation comes from Americans of all political stripes, including 83 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans.
The voters are right on this. Ensuring that workers must earn paid vacation is the moral thing to do, and it’s the practical thing to do. Paid vacation creates happier and healthier workers. Businesses have realized it also makes employees more productive, due to higher morale and retention and less burnout.
Therefore, we in the de Blasio administration are working with the Public Advocate and the NYC Council on a bill that would require all employers with five or more employees to give their workers at least ten days of paid vacation time. Almost a million workers would get paid vacation for the first time, including 200,000 New Yorkers in the hotel and food service industry, 180,000 workers in the professional service sector, and 90,000 retail workers who currently do not have this benefit.
The bill would also create this right for our city’s domestic workers: nannies, house cleaners, and caregivers who are often left out of basic worker protections.
Workers who currently have fewer than ten days would receive ten days, and workers across the city would feel confident knowing that ten days of vacation was a right that couldn’t be taken away.
Now, I know that we’re going to get the same objections and complaints from the same sources. Big business and its mouthpieces will tell us that this is going to destroy the economy—that jobs will go away and businesses will flee if we treat people decently. We've heard it all before. We heard it in 2014, when we made paid sick leave a reality in New York City. Yet, the sky didn’t fall. We worked closely with businesses large and small to help them to comply, businesses have been able to adjust, and New York City’s economy has boomed: we now have more private-sector jobs now than ever before in our history.
In a country as rich as the United States, in a city with as much wealth as New York, working people should not have to sacrifice their health and quality of life to earn a living. New York City is leading the way to ensure they get it, and as politicians nationwide consider expanding paid personal time, they should know that the voters stand with us.
J. Phillip Thompson is New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.