U.S. Sen Al Franken, D-Minn., met with a group of Twin Cities small business owners on Friday, telling them that their support for paid sick leave is helping to drive policies at the national level.
At an event organized by the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, Franken pointed to efforts underway in both Minneapolis and St. Paul to pass citywide sick-leave ordinances. The discussion in Minneapolis has been underway since last fall, and a study group is set to provide its recommendations to the City Council next week. St. Paul, meanwhile, has begun holding listening sessions on the issue.
"I think this percolates up," Franken said. "I think it makes Minneapolis a more liveable city for people and I think it gives Minneapolis an advantage over other metropolitan areas."
All of the business representatives at the table, who were selected by the Main Street Alliance, were supportive of providing paid sick leave. Several said they were already providing the benefit to employees and had seen positive results, including less employee turnover.
Andy Pappacosta, event coordinator at Gandhi Mahal, a south Minneapolis restaurant, said workers can take several days off but it hasn't created a major financial impact.
"In the end, the bottom line is that it is sustainable economically for us," he said.
Franken said he's supportive of federal legislation proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year.
"Other countries do this," he said. "We are a country that has growing inequality in earnings and one thing we can do is create some flexibility for people."
The 19-member group studying sick leave in Minneapolis is less than two weeks from its deadline to provide a recommendation to the council. In a meeting Thursday, some in the Workplace Partnership Group wondered if it was possible to complete the work in time.
Group members agreed to put off a decision on asking for more time until their final scheduled meeting on Feb. 17.
The issue has stirred debate in Minneapolis since it was introduced as part of Mayor Betsy Hodges' Working Families Agenda last fall. Supporters say a citywide sick leave policy could help low-wage workers and people of color, while critics say it could break the budgets of small businesses.
Across the country, 21 cities, four states and one county have mandated paid sick leave.