City’s proposed paid sick time ordinance unveiled

Ron Harris, a community organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, discusses his support for the proposed sick time ordinance Thursday morning at City Hall. Photo by Sarah McKenzie

The City Council reviewed details of a proposed ordinance mandating paid sick time for employers with at least six Minneapolis workers Thursday and is scheduled to vote on the measure Friday, May 27.

A public hearing has been set for Wednesday, May 18 at 3 p.m. before the Council’s Committee of the Whole.

The proposed ordinance largely follows recommendations of a city-appointed Workplace Partnership Group tasked with studying paid sick time policies that delivered a report to the Council in March. The group had advised the Council to adopt an ordinance that would apply to companies with at least four workers.

An estimated 42 percent of Minneapolis workers lack access to paid time off when they become ill — more than 100,000 people — and they are disproportionately people of color and women.

The proposed ordinance would cover employees who work at least 80 hours in Minneapolis a year. It would not cover employees who have federal, state or county government jobs since Minneapolis doesn’t have jurisdiction over those agencies. It also exempts independent contractors, construction workers paid prevailing wages and health care providers who are casual employees.

Workers covered by the ordinance could accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 48 hours in one year. The sick time could also be used to care for a family member who is ill, for preventative health care or because of domestic abuse, a sexual assault or stalking incident.

Companies that have paid time off policies that meet the minimum requirements outlined in the ordinance are not required to provide additional sick days.

It would take effect July 1, 2017 to give the city enough time to educate employers about the ordinance.

Ron Harris, a community organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, joined other advocates of the sick time plan in lobbying for its passage before the Council met to review the proposal. He served on the Workplace Partnership Group.

“We want the strongest possible policy for the most amount of people as soon as possible,” Harris said.

He said his mother lost her job while caring for him when he faced a life-threatening case of pneumonia as an infant.

“I’m of the firm opinion that nobody should ever lose their job or ever miss a paycheck for taking care of their sick kid or a sick family member,” he said. “I’m hopeful that once this ordinance is passed that’s going to be a reality for every worker in the city.”

Mayor Betsy Hodges praised the proposed ordinance. She advocated for it during her State of the City Address more than a year ago.

“I am very pleased that earned sick and safe time for Minneapolis workers is one step closer to reality after I first proposed it a year ago,” she said. “I proposed it because in Minneapolis, people should never have to choose between caring for themselves or their family members and going to work — no one should every have to choose between being sick and being paid.”

She said the measure “balances the needs of workers and their families” and will “improve the public health of everyone.”

Guillermo Lindsay, a McDonald’s employee affiliated with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) who served on the Workplace Partnership Group, also expressed support for the plan and offered some suggestions for improvement.

“As we move forward, we hope the City Council will take steps to ensure strong enforcement measures for the policy, and will address language requiring a doctor’s note after three consecutive days of absence,” Lindsay said. “In our experience, laws work best when people feel empowered to exercise their rights without fear of retaliation. In addition, low-wage workers should not be burdened with a costly doctor’s visit to justify their absence.”

At Thursday’s Council meeting, Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) raised questions about the ordinance’s exemptions, noting several people employed in the city work for the county and the University of Minnesota.

“I’m concerned we’re leaving out some workers that should be included in this,” he said.

Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer and John Stanoch, interim president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, released a statement critical of the proposal. They serve as co-chairs of the Workforce Fairness Coalition, a group of businesses opposed to a paid sick time mandate.

“The proposed sick and safe leave ordinance provides a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex challenge that impacts thousands of employers and tens of thousands of employees of not only Minneapolis businesses, but businesses located outside the city,” Stancoch said. “The vast majority of employers already have personnel policies and practices tailored to the needs of their business and valued employees. This is a far-reaching approach with the potential for unintended consequences to Minneapolis’ economy.”

Cramer said the coalition favors a “community partnership” approach that focuses on encouraging companies to adopt paid sick time policies. He also said he was concerned about how quickly the Council will be voting on the ordinance.

“We know how much Minneapolis can accomplish when we work together, as we have seen when addressing other issues, most recently the creation of the Clean Energy Partnership as an alternative to a City Hall takeover of private utilities,” Cramer said. “In the weeks ahead we hope our elected leaders will keep an open mind as they hear input on this important topic.”

Hodges addressed some of the concerns raised by business leaders and pointed to her Business Made Simple initiative designed to streamline city regulatory processes. “There is much more to do and we are committed to doing it,” she said. “Minneapolis can be, is, and will be a city where workers and businesses of all sizes thrive together.”

Five states, 23 cities and one county in the U.S. have paid sick time laws, according to the latest update from A Better Balance, a New York-based organization that advocates for family friendly policies.

In a presentation to the Council, Deputy City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde noted that studies of cities that have enacted paid sick time laws have not found negative economic impacts.