Statement from Allen Roskoff, President, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club:
The time has come to challenge the obstruction of Council Speaker Christine Quinn and force a vote on the sick-leave bill in the City Council.
We call upon Council Member Gale Brewer to exercise her right under the Council rules as chief sponsor of the bill to gather seven supporters and file a discharge motion immediately to move the bill out of committee—where it has never had a vote—and onto the floor of the Council. If Council Member Brewer refuses to do so, the sponsors of the bill need to select a new chief sponsor who will.
The sick-leave bill has 36 Council co-sponsors—a veto-proof majority that can override a promised veto by Mayor Bloomberg. But instead of moving a bill with overwhelming support in the Council and among the people of New York, Speaker Quinn has refused to schedule a floor vote on it. Instead, she is holding the bill hostage and demanding concessions that will water the bill down to the point of meaninglessness in order to appease business interests and donors to her mayoral campaign. This is a disgrace.
It is time for all City Council Members to stand up for what they say they believe in and pass this bill intact. A discharge motion is rarely used in the Council, but it is the only hope the bill has of passage in its current strong form.
Up until now, Council Members have refused to unite against one-person rule in the Council, ceding their responsibility for representing their constituents entirely to Speaker Quinn. What do they get in return? Extra pay as committee chairs and member-item money to distribute to favored groups in their districts. They have destroyed any semblance of representative democracy in New York because they will not use the power entrusted to them.
If Council Members are not willing to stand up to the Speaker for what they allegedly believe in, we might as well dispense with having a City Council entirely and save the City a lot of money.
We are not naïve about what happens when a discharge motion is brought. City Council members who dare to stand up to the Speaker will be punished with a loss of personal perks. But what is that compared to the human suffering they supposedly are concerned about in advocating for a requirement that employers provide paid sick leave?
In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Council Majority Leader Tom Cuite repeatedly bottled up the City’s lesbian and gay rights bill in committee. In complete frustration, we demanded our sponsors bring the bill to the floor through repeated discharge motions. We lost each of those votes, but each time we learned who really supported us and who did not. And each time we got more votes for the bill, pushing it towards victory in 1986 after Cuite stepped down. Cuite punished members who defied him by going so far as to withhold mail from them, but the ones who stood with us believed civil rights were more important than personal perks.
Speaker Quinn is always justifying her obstruction by claiming it is her job to build consensus. But the Council does not legally operate by consensus. The majority is supposed to rule. And in the case of the sick-leave bill, a supermajority already supports it. Denying a vote on the bill as it is now written is an affront to decency and a mockery of democracy.
We demand a discharge motion be initiated on the sick-leave bill immediately. The bill’s sponsors who speak so passionately for it at press conferences—saying it is a matter of life or death—must demand a discharge motion. The Progressive Caucus of the City Council must live up to its name and demand a discharge motion.
If Council Member Brewer as chief sponsor refuses to bring a discharge motion, then the true advocates of paid sick-leave must get themselves a new chief sponsor.
We also call upon the many groups who claim to be leading the effort to pass the sick-leave bill to join us in this demand for a discharge motion. If they truly care about their members and worker’s rights, they must stand up to the Speaker as well and get their bill to the floor using a procedure that is perfectly legal under the Council rules.
New York is fast becoming a City entirely for the rich—“a luxury product” in the words of Mayor Bloomberg who is rarely challenged by his ally Speaker Quinn. We need an economy that provides living wages, affordable rents, and decent working conditions for ALL New Yorkers, not just the privileged few.
Once in a great while, the Council led by Speaker Quinn stands up to Mayor Bloomberg and overrides his veto. But Council Members never stand up to Speaker Quinn herself to the detriment of the people of the City ofNew York.
The next time Council Members elect a Speaker, they should choose one who believes in democratic majority rule—not one who consolidates power and threatens those who dare to disagree simply for wanting to vote on the issues before them.