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March 13th, 2016

 

Guests: NYS Business Council CEO Heather Briccetti and Freelancers Union Founder Sara Horowitz 

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NYS Business Council President and CEO Heather Briccetti

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Briccetti on Samuels’ assertion that Albany should eliminate the local share of Medicaid and centralize its cost at the state level:

HB: “I agree that using the county as a mechanism to collect funds for a local match for Medicaid isn’t necessarily the best practice. I would argue that perhaps a bigger area where we ought to be looking is in the school taxes because school taxes represent for most people more than, much more than half of their property tax bill. In fact, in some areas it’s 70%. And we are in a state where we have close to 700 school districts and yet almost half the kids in the whole state are in one school district.”

“So we need to be looking at mergers and consolidations of not just school districts but the multiple, multiple layers of local government and taxing jurisdictions and try to roll some of that back because that would provide not just real relief but also some uniformity in the services, including a more equivalent outcome in education. And you don’t want to have someone have different access, say to fire and ambulance service because they happen to live on the wrong side of a line.”

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Briccetti on whether $18,720, the annual salary of someone working 40 hours a week at $9 an hour, is a livable wage in New York State, and MIT’s living wage calculator for New York’s counties:

HB: “The question can be somewhat misleading because it presupposes that the living wage is what an entry level job should pay and I don’t believe that our system or any system has that expectation. The expectation is that an entry level wage … while you are in that position you will earn or learn the skills necessary to move up and progress and have a career. And that is something that has been missing from this conversation since we’ve been talking about it.”

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Briccetti expresses receptivity to New York City being about to set its own minimum wage:

HB: “I recognize that there are differences in the cost of living upstate versus downstate and we would very open to discussing a different treatment of wages in upstate versus downstate. But I also think we need to consider the benefits that some employers provide and some don’t. I have members of the Business Council who provide full health, dental, vision, 401k match to part-time workers who work as few hours as 20 hours a week. Those are jobs that pay maybe $10 dollars an hour and, when you look at the benefits package, the benefits package alone is probably worth 4 or 5 dollars an hour on top of that.”

“Yeah, I think that if New York City as a municipal entity wanted to increase the minimum wage just for the city that would be their prerogative. Obviously, it would still have to get through the legislature and I think it would still negatively impact some small businesses in the city as well. But, certainly that is a better alternative than imposing a minimum wage statewide that is based off of the needs of people living in an area where even the housing costs—I mean, the housing costs are out of control down there and that’s not true in other parts of the state.”

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Briccetti on EffectiveNY’s efforts to get New York State and New York City to create government-run retirement savings programs for private sector workers who don’t have a savings vehicle through their employer:

HB: “It’s a very interesting proposal. Certainly, I think there are many, many employers who would welcome the opportunity to have their employees participate in something like an exchange where they could set up their own retirement packages. And, obviously, there’s a lot moving parts with that, but I would say this: I have many, many employers who have 401k plans and, even when employees don’t participate, the employer puts in a match for them to try and make sure that when the time come for them to retire they have the ability to do so.”

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Briccetti on Governor Cuomo’s paid family leave proposal:

HB: “Our objection to it is primarily the employees, in order to qualify under the Governor’s plan, only need to work at their job for four weeks. Now this by comparison is (to) FMLA, the Federal Medical Leave Act, which, by the way, does not provide compensation but allows you take leave, requires that a person be on the job for a full year before they qualify for it. So that is one point which we would like to see a new mandate which could be more aligned with existing mandates so that you don’t have different calculations required to determine when someone qualifies for one thing versus the other and it creates an administrative headache in its inconsistency.

The second issue that we have is that it’s a full 12 weeks. There’s no other state that provides 12 weeks of paid leave and some of our companies provide—many of our companies already provide paid leave, but not all of them. It’s customized based on the employee, their role, the company, their ability to set aside time. Small businesses obviously have a harder time because you still need to fill that person’s position while they’re gone, presumably. And for certain employers, if you have someone that is very specialized—let’s say they’re managing a large construction project—for them to able to exercise paid leave and leave for twelve weeks without any discussion with the employer and have it be something they are entitled to as a matter of law could create a lot of difficulties. And I’ve spoken to a bunch of folks in the construction industry about this. It would be very problematic.

Many other proposals similar to this, like FMLA, do have special provisions for key employees, highly compensated professionals that would create inclusion. So if you’re a hospital and hired a brain surgeon, for example, and you can’t easily identify another brain surgeon to perform surgeries and it’s life or death … There should be a different way of structuring accommodation for family illness or a new child. So it really is … more about the details. We were pleased to see that this did not require the employer to pay both the person’s salary while they are on leave and, of course, the cost of a replacement worker. So that’s a step in the right direction and we think that this is something that we’re going to continue to talk to the administration and the Legislature about, if we can’t find some ways to accommodate the need for people to be able to spend time with family members when they’re ill or incapacitated without making things impossible for small businesses or for businesses that have highly specialized individuals.”

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Freelancers Union Founder and Executive Director Sara Horowitz

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Horowitz on the “The Freelance Isn’t Free Act”, legislation in the New York City Council:

SH: “The Freelance Isn’t Free Act is a bill in the City Council sponsored by Brad Lander … and has the support now of over 27 City Councilmembers, which is a majority. And what it would do is, it says that if you are freelancing, you have to have a very basic contract and that mandatory contract really makes a big difference and says if the company or the employer hasn’t paid you, you could seek double damages and attorney’s fees. And then it also requires that instead of being paid 30, 60, 90 days at the sort of whim of the company, that you’d have to be paid at 30 days. And so what we’re really trying to do is make this just clear. It’s a little bit of the Wild West where if you’re a traditional employee, you can go to the Department of Labor. There are really severe penalties on employers who don’t pay, including criminal punishment. What we’re just trying to do is to say, as we head into this new workforce, we need to start to build this kind of rationality into it.”

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Horowitz on whether legislators and other elected officials have misconceptions about the freelancers and the gig economy:

SH: “I think that it’s getting better, but first, it was the perception that freelancers are kind of like slackers and it’s just a euphemism for being unemployed. I actually think that’s kind of over, but I think it still remains. … I think the legislation, The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, has started to really educate policymakers that independent workers really are across the whole economic spectrum, really low-wage workers up to professional workers who are all having the same problems of taxation, not getting paid, affording benefits. And I think that universal is really important for people to see that this is hitting people all over the place. And I think it really calls on all of us to be more empathetic and to see that we shouldn’t just segment one part of society and say ‘we care about this group but not that group.’ We’re all human beings. We’re all God’s children. We should see that the struggles we’re having are really ones that others are having. And I think that wage theft in particular shows us that this is happening all over the place, in suburbs and cities, low-wage workers, high-wage workers. It’s really a problem and I think that’s why we see so many groups starting to work on it.”

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Horowitz on the Freelancers Union’s priorities in Albany this session:

SH: “Well, we’re really focused on this Freelance Isn’t Free Act because it would be the first legislation in the country for freelancers on non-payment and it has such implications for other cities across the country that we are just putting our efforts right there now. And I think it’s exciting to have a Mayor and a Speaker that really care so much about working people’s issues that, you know, we really have a chance that this landmark legislation is going to pass.”

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