With city leaders scrapping a controversial workplace scheduling proposal, Minneapolis workers and business owners are shifting their attention to the topic still before the City Council: Universal paid sick leave.
Workers’ groups demonstrated at City Hall on Thursday, expressing frustration over Mayor Betsy Hodges’ decision to back off her push for regulations requiring predictable work schedules — and urging council members to support the remaining pieces of Hodges’ Working Families Agenda. Meanwhile, a coalition of business owners and association leaders, concerned about some elements of the sick-leave proposal, rallied their ranks for their own City Hall gathering on Friday.
At issue is a proposal that would require all employers to provide paid sick time to employees, earned at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked. Employees at businesses with at least 21 employees could earn up to 72 hours, while those at smaller companies could earn 40 hours of sick leave. Only workers covered by collective bargaining agreements that specifically waive the law would be exempt.
In the weeks of heated debate that preceded Hodges’ decision to pull the scheduling piece of her workers’ agenda, sick leave was often the smaller part of the conversation.
Workers and city leaders who back the changes argued that many low-wage, hourly workers often have to choose between coming to work sick or losing out on much-needed pay.
Those concerns were echoed Thursday, as about 300 people filed through City Hall with their fists raised, stopping occasionally for speeches by workers and organizers. Some said they felt they were on the wrong side of a growing divide in Minneapolis that often follows racial lines. They said many white workers have jobs that grant sick days and predictable schedules, but black workers go without those benefits.
Longtime restaurant server KerryJo Felder called out Hodges’ frequently mentioned goal of creating “One Minneapolis” — a city in which such disparities are eliminated. “Nobody in this building should go home and think we are ‘One Minneapolis’ until this gets passed,” Felder said.
‘Best left to … companies’
Business leaders have pointed out that many among their ranks currently offer some form of sick leave or paid time off. At many of the listening sessions held on the Working Families Agenda, some business owners who don’t provide those benefits said they’d be open to doing so, though others worried that the added labor costs could be harmful. Some calculated that the costs could run into the tens of thousands of dollars for companies with 20 or 30 employees.
Bob Kroth, co-owner of Parkway Lawn Service, said he doesn’t believe the government should have a role in deciding how companies offer benefits to their workers.
He said he has provided paid days off to dedicated workers who need time off for illness or after the birth of a child — and he knows that makes him a more attractive employer. “That’s competitive advantage that is best left to private companies to decide for themselves,” he said.
Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said business owners intend to tell council members how they’re already providing benefits for workers when they gather at City Hall on Friday. They’ll also come with a list of concerns, including how such provisions would set Minneapolis apart from competing cities.
“They’re trying to make us an outlier again in the country, and that doesn’t fit well when businesses are looking for places to locate,” he said.
But the mayor and council members who back the sick-leave proposals say they believe people can find common ground on this issue — and that it can happen quickly. They intend to take up the plan in a public hearing Nov. 4 and likely vote on it later that month.
‘A basic thing’
Council Member Andrew Johnson said the discussion about sick leave is different from the one about scheduling, largely because Minneapolis would not be breaking new ground with a sick-time law. “It’s a basic thing,” Johnson said of employer-provided sick leave. “Worldwide, the United States is the only advanced economy that does not have a paid sick leave requirement for employers.”
Already, 19 U.S. cities have approved such requirements, along with one county and four states. Just one city, San Francisco, has passed scheduling laws, and Minneapolis’ proposal would have been considerably more extensive.
Many of those laws are relatively new or have not yet taken effect. But some have been around for years, starting with San Francisco, where a law went into effect in early 2007. The policies there, along with those in place in Seattle since 2012, are similar to the Minneapolis proposal. San Francisco’s plan covers all workers, provides one hour for every 30 hours worked, and a maximum of 40 or 72 hours.
In Seattle, employers must provide sick leave if they have more than four employees, and for employees who work at least 240 hours in the city in a calendar year. Depending on the size of the business, workers can earn up to 72 hours of sick leave, as they would in Minneapolis.
Other cities and states provide varying degrees of coverage. In Portland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City and Jersey City, N.J., all workers are entitled to sick leave. But for those at small businesses, the time is unpaid.
Under the Minneapolis proposal, employees could use sick time for their own illness or to care for a family member. They could also take time off to deal with domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking and on days when a child’s school or day care was shut down because of bad weather.
Unused hours could be carried over from year to year, though employers would not have to exceed the maximum amount of time for any employee. Council members say those hours could not be brought from job to job, a concern that has been raised several times by business leaders. As the discussion expands, there are signs of a willingness to compromise.
And some of the people who lobbied hardest against the scheduling proposals have said they see a need for sick leave.
Longtime restaurant server Sarah Norton, who organized workers in opposition to the mayor and council members’ plans — including launching an online petition that has more than 3,400 signatures — said she thinks requiring sick leave is a good idea from a public health perspective.
“We touch utensils and wipe tables during the cold and flu season,” she wrote in a letter to council members. “Most of us could use a sick hour every once in a while.”