By Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata
There are approximately 190,000 people working in Seattle without paid sick leave. If you are not one of them, why should you care? Because, if they get sick, they go to work sick handling your food, your groceries, or your personal items in your home while caring for your loved ones. And it does happen. One in four grocery workers report coming to work sick when they don’t have paid sick leave. With 78% of accommodation and food service workers, about half of retail workers, and one fourth of health care workers not earning paid sick days, chances are they are going to work sick. In King County, from 2006 to 2010 approximately 30% of recent food borne illness outbreaks (almost all due to norovirus) was linked to food handlers who worked while sick.
Given these statistics, as a member of the Seattle/King County Health Board, I felt that it was important to make Seattle a healthier city for our citizens. We pride ourselves as having a healthy environment, with our majestic mountains and vast waterways we embrace this image. And we strive to promote a strong economy within a sustainable environment by encouraging the development of green buildings. I asked myself, why shouldn’t we also make Seattle a healthy environment for our employees and the clients they serve? That is why I am sponsoring legislation for paid sick leave for all of Seattle’s employees.
PAID SICK LEAVE LEGISLATION
On Wednesday, in my Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture (HHSHC) Committee we were briefed on the main provisions of the proposed paid sick leave ordinance that I am sponsoring. The bill promotes healthy work environments by establishing standards for paid sick days, ensuring that employers provide a minimum amount of paid time off for employees to take care of themselves or their sick family members. If a child is sick, without paid sick days, a parent must decide on whether to lose pay to stay with a sick child, or send the child off to day care or school, where they may infect other children. Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have already enacted similar legislation.
I encourage you to view the committee discussion here (starting at 13.32) when you have the opportunity. You can view the proposed bill here. A public hearing is set for 5:30 pm on Wednesday, July 6, in City Council Chambers, City Hall. At the next HHSHC Committee meeting, on July 13, 2pm, we’ll have a substantive discussion of options to consider. If you don’t receive HHSHC Committee agendas and would like to, you can sign up here.
WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIONS?
I have received emails opposing this legislation for a broad range of reasons. Someone wrote that “After many years working in the private sector I learned that sick leave is almost always used for a fun day off.” But most objections are not based on such assumptions; they raise philosophical positions, possible management problems or cost concerns. Below I’ve summarized the most frequent ones received and have presented responses that address them.
Too much government meddling? It was once normal for young children to go to work instead of school, for people to work from dawn to dusk without overtime pay, and for our food to be riddled with contaminants. Those conditions changed because citizens have supported minimum wages, food inspections, safe working conditions and other standards for employees and workplaces. Meeting minimum safety and health standards makes for more productive and efficient workplaces and protects the general public welfare.
Unfair costs to businesses that don’t already provide paid leave? San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance has been in place since February 2007. An evaluation of it showed that since it was enacted, San Francisco has had a stronger job market than the surrounding counties and the state as a whole, including in the restaurant industry, which was most impacted by the ordinance. In restaurants, the actual direct cost of providing sick leave will be less than $200 per employee per year, assuming $10 per hour wages, including an additional 25% for other employer costs, at the average San Francisco usage rate for the restaurant sector of 1.9 days per year.
Won’t workers abuse paid sick leave? The San Francisco evaluation found that the typical worker used only three days of paid sick leave a year even though they have on average 9 days available to them after one year of employment. Under my proposal, employers may require documentation for absences of more than three days and notice for absences as soon as possible.
We shouldn’t have a one size fits all policy. My proposal has flexibility built in. Small employers with <50 Full-time employees (FTE), medium sized employers with 50-249 FTE, and large employers with >249 FTEs have requirements that are scaled to the number of FTEs. Additionally some employers that already offer a “Paid Time Off” program will be in compliance with my proposal if their program meets the standards of the ordinance in terms of accrual and allowed uses. Plus, employers who rely on workers to do shift work can allow for “shift swapping” thus providing flexibility for both employees and employers, particularly for businesses where the compensation model relies on tips or commissioned sales.
We shouldn’t discourage the economic development that results when established businesses come here or new businesses start up. Most newly-established businesses will have a two-year exemption from the Sick/Safe time requirements. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the 727 employers surveyed in San Francisco indicated they supported the measure. When employees come to work sick it takes them longer to recover and they risk passing their illnesses along to coworkers, resulting in lower productivity. These workplaces have lower turnover, less absenteeism, higher morale and greater customer satisfaction.
Shouldn’t the Council work with the business community in developing this legislation? Over the past several weeks, the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce worked with a number of local small business leaders toward the shared goal of creating a healthier Seattle through paid sick days. The Paid Sick Days ordinance I am introducing is not the original draft proposal that was based largely on the four-year-old San Francisco law. By working together, we have before us now a proposal that is unique to Seattle and ensures no one will be forced to choose between working sick or losing a day’s wages. If you’d like to read a summary, see here.
Some of the local small business owners who worked on this proposal include Dave Meinert (5 Point Cafe), Jody Hall (Cupcake Royale), Joe Fugere (Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria), Moon Neitzel (Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, Makini Howell (Plum Bistro, Sage Bakery, and Hillside Quickie, BJ Duft (Herban Feast), Ana Castro (Salvadorean Bakery, Risa Blythe (Girlie Press), Will Friedman(Cozi) and Linda Derschang (Linda’s, Oddfellows, Smith, King). I sincerely thank these progressive business owners for their leadership and I fully expect more businesses to be endorsing this new proposal in the coming days and weeks.
COUNCIL MEMBERS & MAYOR’S EMAIL ADDRESSES
Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office.http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm