As small-business owners and workers in Minneapolis, we know that a paid sick time ordinance will serve small businesses and workers alike. That’s why we were disappointed with the May 15 editorial, “Mpls. poised to err on anti-business mandate.”
It ignores the crisis facing workers in our city, and instead echoes what we consider unfounded talking points about costs to business offered by groups like the Downtown Council.
According to the editorial, a paid sick time policy is unnecessary because many full-time workers already have this benefit. The numbers say something different. Minneapolis has a two-tiered economy, where full-time jobs with benefits are out of reach for too many. Some 42 percent of all Minneapolis workers do not have access to a single day of paid sick time, disproportionately people of color and women. That’s 123,000 people who choose between earning a paycheck and taking care of their family’s health every time they get sick. For those of us living paycheck to paycheck, as too many in Minneapolis are, that’s a choice our families simply can’t afford to make.
Over the yearlong process toward this policy, we’ve heard hundreds of heartbreaking stories from Minneapolis workers who have had to make that choice. A cancer patient testified that she has been struggling to find a job that will give her time off for chemotherapy appointments. This causes financial instability that exacerbates her leukemia. Several people spoke about their families becoming homeless after losing a job for calling in sick (including a co-author of this article, whose mom wouldn’t have fallen behind on rent and ultimately lost their home if she’d had paid sick time.)
The process included over 16 listening sessions hosted by the city-appointed Workplace Partnership Group. It gave voice to everyone and included those often unheard voices of small-business owners and workers. Over 600 people shared thoughts on what a paid sick time policy should look like. The ordinance, introduced by Council President Barb Johnson earlier this month, reflects the balanced proposal that came out of this input with nearly unanimous support.
It is puzzling that this process, more comprehensive than many in recent city history, was dismissed by the Star Tribune Editorial Board as being done in a “hurry” and on a “fast track.”
Many cities and some states have adopted ordinances with nearly identical language. Their economies have not collapsed. Businesses have not fled. While there is a cost that some employers will bear, it is relatively modest, and it will level the playing field for businesses already providing benefits. Surveys in other cities show that the policy is popular with both employees and employers after implementation.
We can acknowledge that, at first glance, the benefits to employers are harder to put an economic value to, but they are real — happier, healthier employees with lower turnover and greater productivity.
As our painful racial disparities reach a boiling point, it is clear that addressing economic inequality is a critical piece of the solution. Providing guaranteed paid sick time is an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty.
The editorial suggests that the “solution” to this crisis is a voluntary paid sick time system — but isn’t that exactly what we have now? If it worked for the 123,000 people in our city who lack sick time, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
The editorial rehashed arguments we have heard in the past when the state debates raising a basic workplace standard. This time, let’s look more closely at what is to be gained. Twenty-three cities and five states that have this guarantee are improving their economies by improving the lives of millions who live there. Let’s join them.
K.B. Brown is the owner of Wolfpack Promotionals. Lynn Hoffman is chief of community engagement and communications for Eureka Recycling. Both firms are members of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota. Nyijaah Williams is a student at Patrick Henry High School and a member of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.