Debate churns over paid sick time

Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer leads a recent listening session on paid sick time policies for downtown workers and employers. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

A group tasked with making recommendations to the City Council on a mandatory paid sick time ordinance for Minneapolis workers has been gathering feedback at listening sessions with stakeholder groups throughout the city.

The Workplace Partnership, a 19-member group appointed by city leaders, is expected to make its recommendations to the City Council on Feb. 24.

An estimated 40 percent of Minneapolis workers lack access to paid sick days, and women and people of color are disproportionately impacted.

At a recent listening session at the Minneapolis Downtown Council office, downtown-based employers and workers offered viewpoints on paid sick day policies and wrestled with questions posed by the organizers of the meeting.

Brian Mallaro, a partner at Deloitte, a professional services firm that employs about 900 people at its downtown office, said the company offers 20 to 30 days of paid-time off (PTO) depending on years of experience. He added that “market forces drive” the benefits offered by the company. The Minneapolis office is part of a much larger organization with offices across the country.

“Having to administer a one-off kind of policy in Minneapolis would impose an administrative burden,” he said. “More important, anything that makes Minneapolis less attractive with our firm could cause the firm to locate resources [elsewhere].”

Other business leaders echoed Mallaro’s comments. Workers at the listening session, however, encouraged the business leaders to consider the thousands of people in the city who have low-wage jobs and don’t have access to paid sick days or other benefits that higher paid professional workers have in Minneapolis.

Rev. Grant Stevenson of ISAIAH, a faith-based coalition working on social justice issues in Minnesota, spoke with people in the skyway before the Downtown Council listening session. Faith leaders have been active in calling on city leaders to pass a paid sick time ordinance.

“There are tens of thousands of people in Minneapolis who don’t have the ability to take a sick day and be paid for it. They don’t have the ability to stay home with a sick child,” Stevenson said. “It’s really important that the city step up now and create a really strong policy that we can all feel good about and proud about, and move our city forward.”

Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer, who serves on the Workplace Partnership, called the listening session “lively and substantive.”

“We heard loud and clear that most employers offer a robust benefit, most often structured as paid time off that can be used as needed. But also that not all segments of the downtown work force enjoy this benefit, or at least enough to meet their needs,” he said. “The question of whether the City, acting alone, can or should step in provokes a strong negative reaction from most businesses who see such an action as an overreach with likely negative consequences for the Minneapolis economy. This is the dilemma the appointed Working Group and ultimately the City Council and Mayor will have to address.”

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) has attended some of the listening sessions. She said there are some people who think city leaders are moving too fast on the issue, while others say it’s taken them too long to take action on the issue.

She said the Council is on track to take up the Workplace Partnership’s recommendations Feb. 24.

“I think it will be a really important moment for the City Council,” Glidden said. “People are taking it very seriously.”

A proposal for mandatory sick time in Minneapolis is part of a Working Families Agenda first outlined by Mayor Betsy Hodges at her State of the City Address in April 2015. The agenda also included a so-called “fair scheduling” ordinance that would have required employers to notify workers of their schedules 14 days in advance — a proposal that was later dropped in face of intense opposition from the business community.

The City Council delayed a vote on a proposed sick time ordinance in late October and instead voted to establish the Workplace Partnership to study earned sick and paid-time off policies.

According to A Better Balance, a New York-based organization advocating for family-friendly policies in the workplace, four states (Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon), 20 cities and one county have enacted paid-sick time laws in the U.S.

Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C., said there is growing evidence that paid sick day laws are good for workers, businesses and local economies.

“From reducing turnover and promoting healthier, more productive workplaces to providing financial stability for workers so they can make ends meet and spend money in their communities, the research makes clear that paid sick days are win-win-win,” she said in a recent conference call with reporters organized by the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, a small business advocacy group. “Minneapolis would be wise to establish a standard of its own.”

Dan Swenson-Klatt, owner of Butter Bakery Café at 37th & Nicollet, has recently implemented a paid sick policy for his workers. His small business is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

“It turns out, the costs are relatively low,” he said during the Main Street Alliance conference call. “In the past six months, my 20 employees have only used about five days total. And it’s a great benefit to my employees who don’t have to worry about working sick.”

More than 947,000 workers in the private sector in Minnesota (about 43 percent of the private-sector workforce) don’t have access to any paid sick days, according to a new report on earned paid sick days in Minnesota by the Main Street Alliance.

>>> Upcoming listening sessions on paid sick time policies

— Jan. 19: Franchise businesses, 3:30–5 p.m. at Pearl Park, 414 E. Diamond Lake Rd.
— Jan. 20: African-American employees and employers, 5–6 p.m. at the Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Ave. N.
— Jan. 21: General public, 6:30–8 p.m., Sabathani Community Center, 310 E. 38th St.
— Jan. 28: Public health/health care, 2–4 p.m. at Allina Commons’ Pettingill Hall (lower level), 2925 Chicago Ave. S.