Brewer is the chief sponsor of a bill that would mandate paid sick leave for many New York employees. But Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who plans to run for mayor next year, does not support the bill because of concerns that it could cause businesses to cut jobs, and she has not allowed it to be voted on—despite the fact that 36 of the 47 council members support it and polls show that over 70 percent of New Yorkers support the idea.
Brewer could use a parliamentary maneuver called a motion to discharge, which would bypass Quinn and bring the bill to a full vote with the support of the lead sponsor—Brewer—and seven other supporters. But Brewer, who is running for Manhattan borough president next year, told Spectator that she would like to come to a compromise with Quinn rather than use that procedure.
“I think the motion to discharge is a good thing to have on the books, but to me, I want to work with my wonderful colleagues to come up with a bill,” Brewer said. “It's good to have back-and-forth discussion.”
Observers say that using a motion to discharge could have negative political consequences for Brewer, and that the maneuver could cause the bill to lose support.
“Use of a motion to discharge will alienate the speaker, whose support Brewer wishes to keep, especially if she does run for Borough President,” Barnard urban studies professor Flora Davidson said in an email.
“Bills like these always make the business community nervous—increased regulation increases their costs—and the mayor will likely veto it as well,” Davidson added.
At the same time, Brewer is under pressure from liberal activists to force a vote. Prominent activist Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club in Chelsea, said that Brewer is not putting “her money where her mouth is.”
“What Gale Brewer is doing is preventing the issue she is promoting from passing,” Roskoff said, adding that any compromise would “water down the number of employees eligible, reduce the number of sick days, redefine what sick means,” and generally make the bill less effective.
Brewer has already compromised by adding several concessions to small businesses, including a one-year grace period for new businesses to begin giving employees sick pay and an exclusion for businesses with fewer than five employees.
“We are calling for Gale Brewer to take her name off as chief sponsor or for another member to take on a similar bill and take it on with the discharge,” Roskoff said.
In response, Brewer said, “My name will stay on the bill and I'm going to keep working on the issue.”
Some other liberal groups are staying neutral in the debate over the parliamentary maneuver. Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party—which supports the bill—said in a statement that he expects Quinn will eventually support the bill.
“The time has come for a vote on the paid sick days bill,” Cantor said. “With Speaker Quinn's background as a public health advocate, we're optimistic we'll get a vote, at the end of the day, with her support.”
Brewer, who is term-limited, will not be on the City Council after next year's election, and not all of the candidates running to replace her support the bill. Candidate Ken Biberaj, a local businessman, told Spectator that he still has questions about the legislation.
“Before politicians promise anything about paid sick leave, we need to look closely at how this actual bill is crafted,” Biberaj said in a statement. “Otherwise well-intentioned legislation will punish businesses doing right by their employees.”
The other four candidates running to replace Brewer—Democratic District Leader Marc Landis, former Community Board 7 chairs Helen Rosenthal and Mel Wymore, and State Democratic Party Committeewoman Debra Cooper—all signed a letter, along with other council candidates from around the city, supporting the bill. The letter calls the failure to bring the bill to a vote “unconscionable.”
Casey Tolan contributed reporting.