Providing paid sick and safe leave
This afternoon I will vote in favor of an amended version of the Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance, a new law that will provide Seattle workers with access to paid leave when they or a family member become ill or a victim of domestic violence.
This legislation is significant because only a handful of jurisdictions in the United States—San Francisco, Milwaukee, the District of Columbia and Connecticut—have passed similar laws.
This legislation raises many questions and concerns and very strong feelings on all sides. Since late April, my office has received over 1,750 comments (and counting) on the proposal—from solid support to unwavering opposition to everywhere in between.
After careful consideration of who does and doesn't have sick leave today by looking at national and local statistics, I decided to support a new version of this legislation.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 61% of private firms nationally offer paid leave. In these companies, 84% of management and professional staff receive paid leave but only 33% of workers earning $10.50 or less per hour do. An estimated 145,000 workers in Seattle (out of 462,000) do not currently receive paid sick and safe leave.
Workers without paid sick days often live from paycheck to paycheck. They simply cannot afford to take a day off when they don't feel well or when their children are too sick for school.
Economic insecurity hurts and it can be dangerous. I remember when I was 12 and my parents could not afford to keep our house and lost it through foreclosure. When families find themselves facing a choice to either work sick or fall behind on rent payments, our social fabric begins to unravel.
Remember, too, that this legislation applies to the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Most of these victims are women who need special, proactive interventions to protect themselves and their children.
City government has a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable residents.
From the conversations I've had with people on all sides of this issue, I know that there are legitimate fears that the legislation will cause unintended harm to local businesses.
I owned my own business for 20 years and I sympathize with the concerns of employers operating on thin profit margins. While my company always provided benefits well exceeding the minimums set by this ordinance, I know different businesses and industries face different challenges.
The substitute ordinance that will be introduced this afternoon addresses these concerns. Specific provisions include:
- Delaying the effective date of the legislation for one year to September 1, 2012, giving employers time to modify payroll systems and set up new procedures.
- Making the accrual of paid leave benefits the same for companies with fewer than 250 employees and lowering the minimum leave threshold for our largest employers.
- Allowing employees to voluntarily exchange hours or "trade shifts," a provision that will be most useful in restaurants and bars.
- Allowing employers with fewer than 250 employees to combine the paid sick and safe leave requirement with a "paid time off" (PTO) program as long as the total number of PTO days is the same or greater than the minimums required for sick and safe leave. Employers with 250 or more employees can do the same, but would have to provide a minimum of 13.5 days for the combined PTO program.
- Requiring that an objective and independent evaluation of implementation and impact be presented to the Council after the first year, a change designed to ensure that unintended consequences are identified and eliminated.
Here's a table that shows the minimum requirements of the new legislation for employers who maintain a separate paid sick and safe leave program (not combined in a PTO program):
Here are some other important provisions of the legislation:
- Small businesses with fewer than five employees are exempt from the ordinance.
- New businesses just getting started are exempt for the first two years of their operation.
- Employees will begin to accrue paid sick and safe time immediately when the ordinance takes effect next year but employers can have a probationary period of up to six months before this leave can be used by employees.
Of course, nothing in this legislation prohibits a more generous benefits program as a large number of Seattle businesses already provide.
This bill may take some time getting used to, but I am confident this is the right step for Seattle to take. It recognizes the economic reality of our time. It is fair to employees and to employers. It protects our most vulnerable workers and families.
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