Statewide paid sick leave policy advances

Over strenuous Republican objections, the Legislature’s joint budgetary committee this morning approved a statewide paid sick leave policy.

The bill now heads to the full Senate and House floors, where it is expected to be approved, potentially as early as next week.

A top priority for majority Democrats, the paid sick leave policy have been debated for months, with many of its details up in the air until recently.

The latest version of Senate Bill 454 would require any employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to five days a year of paid sick time to their employees.

The exception would be Portland, whose 2013 paid sick leave policy applies to employers of six or more. That policy would be allowed to stand. But Eugene’s still-unimplemented 2014 policy, which applies to employers of all sizes, would be negated.

In order to gain support of several moderate Democrats in the Senate, the policy is tied to a separate bill, Senate Bill 968, which creates a two-year ban on local governments enacting rules regarding employee scheduling.

The proposed ban comes as labor advocates nationally have started lobbying for laws requiring employers to give their workers early notice of their schedule and of any possible changes — policies dubbed “predictive” or “fair” scheduling.

Republicans proposed a number of amendments today to the sick leave bill. One would have required only business with 25 or more employees to provide paid sick leave. Another would have exempted the agricultural industry from the requirement.

Sen. Chuck Thomsen, a Hood River Republican and a pear farmer, said the policy was unworkable for farmers who need a flexible and available seasonal workforce during short harvest windows.

“This is impossible for agriculture,” added Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles. “You can’t imagine the hectic nature” of harvests

Democrats voted down the amendments, without discussion.

After the vote, a visibly frustrated Thomsen walked out of the meeting.

“I’m not feeling very well,” he said. “So I’m going to take a sick day.”

In a prepared statement after the vote, Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, a Portland Democrat who sponsored the bill, urged the Senate to pass “this basic workplace standard.”

“The truth is, people are more productive when they can stay home to recover and care for their families without losing pay or risking their jobs,” she said. “Voters overwhelmingly support paid sick time and a growing number of employers do too.”

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