When St. Paul City Council Member Rebecca Noecker got a call on Monday that her son was sick at day care, she had to worry about missing meetings and postponing calls — but she didn’t have to think about going a day without pay.
“The fact of the matter is, I’m white and I’m middle class, so I’m really, really lucky,” Noecker said at a news conference Wednesday. Many of the city’s residents who most need paid sick time cannot get it, she said.
That may change next year.
The St. Paul City Council voted Wednesday to have a task force study sick- and safe-leave requirements for businesses citywide. Safe leave is offered to people who need to take time off work because of domestic violence or sexual assault. Minneapolis is also looking into such regulations.
The council’s vote comes shortly after a study found that 42 percent of workers in the city — about 72,200 people — do not get paid sick time.
Low-income and part-time employees are less likely to get paid leave, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota. And employees who are people of color, particularly Latino and black workers, were less likely than white workers to get sick leave.
The organizations used data collected by federal agencies to uncover the trends, which are similar to those in Minneapolis.
People in the service industry had the least access to paid sick time. About 34 percent of those workers had access.
City officials have focused on ensuring that people in the service industry — particularly food service — can get paid time off when they are ill. There were at least 208 outbreaks of food-borne illness in Minnesota between 2004 and 2013 that were linked to people working while sick, according to the city.
The new task force will look into many sick-leave issues, including which employers and workers should be covered by a new ordinance and what requirements someone would need to meet to take time off. The group will also consider how to enforce the ordinance.
The regulations need to be flexible and accommodate different types of businesses, said Diane Brennan, who owns Fusion Salon in St. Paul and who attended Wednesday’s news conference. She supports paid sick leave and began offering it to her employees in January.
When Brennan first heard that the city was considering regulating sick leave, she said she was upset. She didn’t want government telling her how to run her business. But she said she thought about it and decided it was an important change.
“When you put the human aspect to it, we’re talking about staying home with a sick child,” Brennan said. “You shouldn’t have to be punished for it.”
The city is taking applications for task force members. Their recommended ordinance and enforcement policy is scheduled to be presented to the mayor and council by June 1 and implemented next year.