This Week in the Mercury


Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Update from the Council Debate on Earned Sick Leave

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Mar 7, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Portland City Council today is taking up an amended version of Commissioner Amanda Fritz's proposal for paid sick leave—the second major public hearing on a policy that would be a first for Oregon. In fact, it's been so "amended," that city commissioners just spent the first half hour of the session proposing even more changes to a proposal that had already been refined through a month of task force meetings shaped both by fans and foes of the policy.

The main idea is still the same: Every eligible employee in Portland would be able to take up to 40 hours of sick time in a year—with that leave paid at any business with more than five workers. Except, under changes initially unveiled last week by Dan Saltzman and Frtiz, workers will need to work either 240 hours or 90 days, whichever is longer, before they can spend their sick time.

(The task force changes are here. Further finer-point changes by Saltzman, and also by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish are here and here, respectively.)

It's safe to expect a long hearing. It's safe to expect the policy will pass later this month when it comes up for a final vote. And it's also safe to expect that foes will turn their attention to a bill in Salem that would expand sick leave statewide.

"I want to thank Commissioners Fritz and Saltzman for bringing diverse viewpoints into into the process," Mayor Charlie Hales said, promising "you are going to see this again, frankly, in our budget process."

Hit the jump for testimony.

Task force members and supporter are on the first panel—and they're bullish on the proposal, and the task force, calling it "extraordinary" and "extremely beneficial."

"The business communtiy is divided," Tony Fuentes. "but the public is not.'

Andrea Paluso of Family Forward then invoked the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and decades of improvements for workers—like the minimum wage and child labor laws and workplace hazard standards.

"Despite this, the market continues to operate," she said.

Next up, though, came some of the big-name opponents of the bill, who also served on the task force and managed, in whatever ways they could, to file off any rough edges of something that was happening whether they wanted to or not: Joe Gilliam, the grocery lobbyist, Bernie Bottomly, of the Portland Business Alliance, and Bill Perry, the restaurant industry's lobbyist.

Bottomly, the vice president of government affairs for the PBA, said he, too, appreciated the task force and that it improved the proposal. But...

"That being said, we have significant concerns about the ordinance and the process."

Even with the month the city spent making fixes and after several hearings, and after Fritz signaled her intentions all the way back in the fall, Bottomly accused the city of rushing though things.

"I'm talking to folks in the community who are just coming to grips with the fact that this is coming,"

All three remain worried about the effect sick time might have on a business's bottom line. (Several also worried about the sanctity of labor contracts—a change would ignore current labor agreements by immediately requiring sick time instead of waiting for contracts without it to expire.) All three also said the city should do more to exempt businesses that already exceed the sick time minimum from having to do cumbersome paperwork proving they're in compliance.

Gilliam, however, drove in a dagger. He accused the city of driving out Franz Bakery with a sick time policy calling for five days a year instead of three.

"They have been here forever," he said. "You broke the camel's back."

Gilliam also derided provisions that would apply to businesses outside Portland whose workers make deliveries or drive in and out of the city to conduct other business here.

"I think you are overreaching going outside the city of Portland," he said. "In the city, those are your employers, those are your values."

Fritz answered that further refinements will be contemplated.

"This is not the end of the process," she said. "But it is a big step."

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