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Minneapolis paves way to give thousands of workers paid sick time

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Rod Adams rallies for paid sick leave
Rod Adams, a worker's rights organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, speaks at a rally on May 18 on the steps of Minneapolis City Hall before a public hearing on an ordinance that could mandate paid sick time for many workers in the city.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council cleared the way Thursday afternoon for a new mandate that could give thousands of workers paid sick time starting next year. 

The measure is expected to pass in a final vote Friday. Supporters say the change is long overdue, but business leaders still have questions about the cost and questions about how it will work.

This idea has had plenty of debate, just like local minimum wage standards and regulations on employee scheduling. It's the only surviving part of a wide-ranging worker protection initiative over the last two years. 

The new regulation would give all classes of employees — full-time, part-time and temporary — an hour of paid sick time for every 30 they work. Workers can accrue up to 48 hours per year and carry up to 80 hours from year to year. It applies to all employers with six or more workers, and would take effect in July of 2017.

After several hours of tinkering, the Minneapolis City Council said it at least wants workers to have the option to stay home and get paid if they need to. 

Council member Lisa Bender hailed the measure's likely passage during a hearing in City Hall.

"Right now, 40 percent of our workers in the city of Minneapolis have to choose between going to work when they are sick and making ends meet in many cases, with no paid time off," she said. "And we have created a huge new protection for our workers in the city."

The measure got considerable push back last week during a public hearing when employers said the benefit was too expensive, too complicated to administer, and threatened to make Minneapolis and its businesses less competitive.

However, the council actually broadened the benefit on Thursday.

One amendment added unpaid leave for so-called "micro employers," or those with fewer than six employees. It doesn't guarantee pay, but means workers can take sick time without retaliation or losing their jobs.

Another change lifted an exemption that would have denied some nurses paid sick leave. 

Yet another change could have a larger impact: Council member Linea Palmisano added language that will allow workers to use sick time to care for children and other family members if schools close for bad weather, power outages or other emergencies.

That drew a sharp reaction from council member Lisa Goodman.

"This sounds to me like its now saying we're going to have paid family leave, family medical leave," Goodman said. "That would be a reason to be able to take off too. That would seem to me to be a substantial change, in what we were suggesting we were doing."

Goodman suggested that it might draw the attention of the Legislature, if not a statute preempting the city's new regulation.

Still, Palmisano said she wanted it done.

"To me this is an equity kind of amendment," she said. "I don't know of many professional employees who, when school gets closed for weather concerns or some reason that they don't have the ability to take immediate vacation or paid time off to go and care for their loved ones."

The council did back off the new benefit in one aspect: An amendment would require new business to provide only unpaidsick leave for the first year — though only through the year 2022. 

Council member Kevin Reich said the city needs to treat startups differently.

"I mean there's a whole different situation when you're a new business for the first 18 months," he said. "Often times its called the walk through the desert. And we're just acknowledging that's a real situation."

Business representatives looked on at Thursday's hearing and acknowledged that the ordinance is likely to take effect, despite their concerns.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, had concerns with how the ordinance might work.

"[The issue] right now is that if you have an existing plan right now, do you have to click through a list of 24, 25, 26 things and be completely compliant in each of those to have an acceptable plan?" he said. "Or is there an opportunity to say, you maybe have to do one, two or three things or exceed this or do better than that, and you have an opportunity to say, 'This plan gets the job done'?"