Paid sick leave becomes focus in Mpls after 'fair scheduling' effort stumbles

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges on KNOW.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges on KNOW.
File | Regina McCombs / MPR News

Minneapolis leaders are vowing to push for a proposal that will require employers in the city to provide all workers with paid sick time off.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges announced earlier this week that she was tabling another effort that would have required employers to give employees advance notice of work schedules. That proposal hit a snag after it encountered strong opposition from the business community.

But Hodges told MPR host Cathy Wurzer on Thursday that she was still committed to a proposal that would require employers to provide paid sick time.

"This is about employees, this is about making sure that employees don't have to choose between getting well and getting paid," Hodges said.

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The proposal is still in the draft phase, but it would require employers to provide one hour of sick pay for every 30 hours that are worked. Employers with 21 or more employees would be required to allow the worker to accrue up to 72 hours of sick time, while employees at workplaces with fewer than 21 employees would be able to accrue up to 40 hours of sick time.

Under the draft, sick time could be used for a mental or physical illness, medical care or caring for a family member. Victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking could also use sick time. It could also be used if an employee's workplace or a child's school was closed due to weather or another emergency.

The city has linked more 200 food-borne illness outbreaks to sick employees since 2004.

"When people come to work sick, there's a huge cost to the business," Hodges said. "Any industry that works with food, the risk to the business of spreading food-borne illness is quite high."

The city's business community may not respond to the idea of sick time as negatively as it did to the proposed scheduling requirements.

"We like to think that business can take care of itself," Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Klingel told MPR's Tom Weber. "We do realize there's a certain amount of regulation that comes in."

Klingel expressed concern that a policy allowing workers to bring sick time with them when they started a new job would make it into the final ordinance. But supporters of the bill said that's not likely. He said the chamber hopes to find some middle ground with city leaders on the sick time issue.

"There's nothing to oppose yet because there is no language," Klingel said. "They put out some general ideas and we've been reacting to those general ideas because we don't think they are workable in the marketplace, which is not to say that people shouldn't have some sick time."

The proposals about working conditions in Minneapolis came out of conversations around racial and economic disparities, Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Bender told MPR's Tom Weber on Thursday. The city estimates that 41 percent of employed Minneapolis residents don't get paid sick time.

"We see huge disparities in who gets sick time in our city and who does not," Bender said. "It is our low-income, people of color, low-wage hourly workers, who don't have the basic protections that most people in our city enjoy, so they have to choose between going to work sick and paying their rent."

Hodges said she hopes the sick time proposal will be finalized sometime next month. Workers and activists supporting both the fair scheduling and sick time proposals plan to rally at City Hall on Thursday afternoon.