Why You Should Care That Newark Just Passed a Paid Sick Leave Bill

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 28 2014 11:45 AM

Why You Should Care That Newark Just Passed a Paid Sick Leave Bill

And speaking of progressives pushing and pushing harder until they win something, the nation's biggest little news story comes from Newark, N.J., where the city council approved a bill to mandate paid sick days for everyone who works in the city. The vote was 5–0; the victory took months. Labor and community organizing groups, most notably the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, lobbied the city council and offered up polls to prove that sick leave was popular. Right after the vote, New Jersey's new senator praised his city.

There's been a lot of talk about the de Blasio effect, about how the mayoral victory of the city's most populist Democratic candidate has inspired progressives in other cities. Sick leave is probably the most direct consequence of de Blasio's win, because in New York, it helped him slaughter the competition.

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I'll explain. In her final terms as New York City Council speaker, Christine Quinn set herself up as a slightly-more-progressive clone of Michael Bloomberg. The business community was fine with how things were going? Well, so was she. Progressives on the council pushed for a comprehensive sick leave bill—she blocked it and negotiated a watered-down version. As the New York Daily News reported at the time, de Blasio (then at low single digits in the polls) trekked to the headquarters of Al Sharpton's National Action Network to oppose Quinn's deal.

"People aren’t dumb," he said. "They’ll figure out that their interests were not her priority. Her interests were the interests of the business community and that’s been quite apparent."

In the first polls of 2013, before the sick leave compromise, Quinn's lead over the Democratic primary field hovered between 18 and 24 points. The first poll taken after the compromise, a Marist survey, found her lead shrinking by 7 points, her overall support falling from 37 percent to 26 percent. By the summer she was in a dogfight with that one guy who took pictures of his crotch and tweeted them. On Election Day, she won a pathetic 15.5 percent of the vote, coming in third place.

To people outside New York, Quinn became a very minor footnote, or maybe a tragic figure à la Hillary Clinton—just another woman defeated by the boys' club. But to progressives, Quinn was a major scalp, and sick leave was an obvious, achievable wedge issue to push for in liberal cities. And most large cities are liberal, or at least governed by Democrats.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.