Fritz proposes paid sick days ordinance, invites community conversation

But her critics charge she's rushing the issue


January 24, 2013 -- After months of campaigning by advocacy groups of various stripes, Portland's paid sick days campaign is on City Council's table – scheduled for a hearing next week and a vote in February.
The current proposal, introduced by City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, grants up to five days of paid leave to workers in many categories, including part-timers, and takes its lead from Seattle and San Francisco, both of which have adopted paid sick leave policies in recent years.
Labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union and the Oregon Nurses Association, have signed on in support of Family Forward Oregon's paid sick days campaign, and
the Industrial Workers of the World has led a separate campaign asking employers rather than the government to grant sick days.
But they aren't the only ones speaking up. “This isn't a labor-driven movement,” said Lee Mercer, executive director of the Main Street Alliance, an organization that works with small businesses around
the state to advocate for social change and a “broader concept of sustainability.”
Mercer said the Main Street Alliance conducted a poll of businesses in Portland and around the state, asking how many of them would like to provide paid sick days for their employees. Eighty percent of Portland businesses said they would, and 46 percent of businesses around the state said they would like to. Mercer said he considers the latter figure a strong plurality, if not a majority, and notes that the high numbers are partly dependent on the way the question was phrased.
“It's an aspirational question,” he said. Oftentimes, businesses either assumed offering paid time off was too expensive, or simply hadn't gotten around to crunching the numbers, even if they intended to offer their employees more benefits eventually. The cost is much lower – about one to two percent of total labor cost – than many assume, and is “much cheaper than providing health insurance,” he said.
At an informal community forum to talk about the proposal Wednesday, Fritz said the number of days off granted by the proposal is somewhat arbitrary and could change depending on feedback from the community. “We looked at more, we looked at less. There's nothing magic about five.”
Some audience members criticized Fritz for rushing the vote and not doing enough outreach to small business associations before putting it before the community. Fritz countered that holding a public forum before the formal hearing is highly unusual, and that she would be willing to continue discussing the issue and postpone the vote if the community isn't happy with the proposal. She also added that the text of the ordinance can be altered in between its adoption and its implementation next January.
In addition to the city proposal, Sen. Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland) has announced that she intends to introduce legislation mandating paid sick leave for workers around the state.
“Getting to a consistent law often takes smaller governments taking action first to sort of build up momentum,” said Lisa Frack, communication director for Family Forward Oregon, which has led the charge for paid sick days legislation.
Frack said she hopes to see more conversation about the specific number of paid sick days, especially with recognition that many parents hoard their sick time, and that many workers who lack paid sick days don't have other types of leave.
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