Workers in New York City now have a legal right to paid sick leave thanks to an incredibly successful campaign led by the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY), a grantee of the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants Program, along with their key partner Make the Road-NY.

Until just a few months ago, 64 percent of low-income working New Yorkers lacked paid sick days – time they could take off from their jobs when they were sick or needed to care for an ill family member without losing a day’s pay. Having to make painful choices between earning a paycheck and taking care of one’s health or the health of one’s children threatens the health and financial security of these workers and their families. It also threatens the health of all of us. A 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that a lack of paid sick leave led to an additional 5 million cases of adult H1N1 (swine flu), resulting in an estimated 23,000 additional hospitalizations and nearly 1,400 deaths. But we don’t need studies to tell us what is obvious – it isn’t good for any of us if people are forced to work when they’re sick or to send sick children to school, and paid sick days can have a beneficial impact on both the health and the financial security of struggling families.

In June of 2013, CSSNY and its coalition successfully overcame a mayoral veto to establish an ordinance that provided for up to five days a year of paid sick time for about one million New York City workers who previously had no legal access to that benefit. This year, on the heels of the election of new Mayor Bill de Blasio, an expansion of the original law passed as the first legislative initiative of the de Blasio administration, extending legal access to paid sick time to hundreds of thousands of additional workers. Workers began accruing sick time on April 1 and could start using the leave as of July 30.

CSSNY will continue educate the public about the new law and to collect stories – both positive and negative – about how implementation is going. This is an important part of making sure that the new law is enforced and workers can actually access the rights they now have. They will also use their annual Unheard Third survey to measure public awareness of the law. CSSNY already has a track record of using research to inform effective public education efforts. For example, in July 142 volunteers from Make the Road-NY handed out flyers about the paid sick leave law as part of a city-led day of action at subway stops. The city relied on CSSNY’s research to help determine which subway stops were chosen in an effort to target likely neighborhoods where workers would be eligible for this new benefit.

The impact of this campaign doesn’t stop in New York City. As the nation’s media and business capital, what happens in NYC attracts nationwide attention and has the power to influence similar efforts across the country. CSSNY’s successful campaign has inspired similar efforts in neighboring Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey, both of which passed paid sick leave laws modeled on New York’s. In addition, CSSNY was recently invited to do a presentation on the importance of paid sick leave to the Social Determinants of Health Working Group, a Medicaid redesign team in New York state. This team has begun looking carefully at the economic and social determinants of health, which are factors like education and employment that have a huge impact on the health of individuals. The team is interested in how addressing these factors might improve the health of Medicaid recipients and produce long-term cost savings. Specifically, they are considering what the state might achieve through workplace benefits, including the possibility of taking the paid sick leave policy statewide.

There’s no doubt that CSSNY and Make the Road-NY have helped lead a very impressive campaign over the past two years. With the support of the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants Program, they’ve used all of the advocacy capacities at their disposal – campaign development, communications, resource development, policy analysis and advocacy, coalition and stakeholder alliances, and grassroots organizing – and they’ve used those capacities strategically and effectively. This campaign can be a model for other cities and states, thereby helping not only low-wage workers in New York, but workers in other communities across the nation.


Community Catalyst manages the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants program, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program is an important element of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program and supports two-year efforts among local coalitions of community organizations, policymakers, business, education, health care, and public health professionals who are working to create positive policy or system changes on the social and economic factors that impact the health of people in their community. No Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funding was used for lobbying in the CSSNY project.