Advocacy Group Pushes for Paid Sick Leave

Right now Family Forward Oregon has not decided whether to push for legislation or propose a city ordinance in Portland

September 27, 2012 -- A campaign to ensure that all workers in Portland earn paid sick time – inspired by similar campaigns in San Francisco and Seattle – is just getting its footing, with advocates still discussing how they plan to proceed.

Lisa Frack, communications director for Family Forward Oregon, a group pushing for more family-friendly policies in the workplace, said her group is reaching out to small businesses, unions and other groups to hammer out a strategy as well as raise awareness about the issue.

Forty percent of private-sector workers in Oregon don't get any paid time off, with that number skewing much higher (as much as 80 percent) among lower income brackets. What's more, Frack said, the workers least likely to have paid sick time usually work in restaurants or healthcare facilities.

“The service industry is the one where people have the most contact with the public, and you kind of want them to stay home [when they are sick],” Frack said, but most just can't afford to take any time away from their jobs. In addition, many service-industry employers will only offer sick leave after an employee has taken three unpaid days off.

Frack said it's not uncommon for politicians to be unaware of this problem. While most people who work in the service industry are well aware of the difficulties involved in getting time off work to recover from an illness, elected officials are sometimes flabbergasted at the percentage of people who don't get any sick time.

The Everybody Benefits Oregon campaign is part of a broad coalition of small business owners and advocates (including the Main Street Alliance), labor unions (including the Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Nurses Association) and parent groups advocating for change.

Right now, Frack said, organizers are still determining what shape any proposed changes should take – for instance, whether it makes more sense to propose a city ordinance in Portland at first, or introduce legislation at the state level.

A separate campaign, led by the Industrial Workers of the World's Food & Retail Workers division, is pushing for paid sick days, too, and is holding a rally October 6 at Holladay Park near Lloyd Center.

Known as the Paid Sick Days Now Campaign, it’s building a grassroots movement of workers and community allies to demand that employers provide paid sick days for full-time, part-time and temporary workers -- without waiting for legislation to get passed.

“I think their ask is more focused on employers,” Frack said. “Our sense is, there are employers who are doing this. What's worked in other places is this baseline requirement.”

Seattle's paid sick leave ordinance went into effect earlier this month, while San Francisco has required that all workers have the ability to earn paid leave since 2007. Since then, most people used an average of three sick days a year (fewer than what was mandated by the law), employer profitability has not been impacted, and parents with children who have contagious diseases have taken sick leave rather than send their children to school, according to a report published by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Women's Policy Research.

“If more people can go to the doctor, that's great,” Frack said, referring to the Affordable Care Act, which will expand insurance to low-income people. “But if you can't take time off to go to the doctor, that's not so great.”


For more information about the October 6 rally demanding that employers provide paid sick days, click here

Image for this story by F Delventhal (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

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