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St. Paul considers earned sick, safe time for employees

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St. Paul is one step closer to requiring that businesses give all workers in the city paid sick time. Under recommendations from a special task force, employers would have to provide an hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. 

If the City Council approves the measure, St. Paul would join Minneapolis and dozens of other cities across the country that have paid sick time laws. 

David Weiss works several part-time jobs, including as a grocery delivery man in St. Paul. Weiss said if he's not feeling well, he has to make a decision: Lose a day's pay or risk spreading illness to his mostly elderly customers. 

"I love this job. But without earned sick time, when I'm sick, I either gamble with my bills, or with my health, my clients' health and our community's health," he said. 

Weiss and dozens of other supporters of the measure spoke Tuesday night at a meeting of St. Paul's Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission. 

The panel is reviewing recommendations for an ordinance that came from a 29-member task force. Co-chair Matt Kramer, who is president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed law would cover nearly everyone who works within the city limits. 

"All employers, regardless of size are covered. There is not a size exemption," he said. "Family businesses are treated the same as any other business. Casual employees, which is a term of approximate art in many industries including the health care industry, are not exempted."

Under the recommendations, employees would begin accruing sick time after working 80 hours at a job. They'd get one hour for every 30 on the clock and could earn up to 48 hours a year. Workers would also be able to use the accumulated hours as "safe time," if they or family members are victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. 

Kramer said city attorneys are still working on the ordinance's details, including whether workers in the city would be covered if their employer is headquartered outside of St. Paul. 

But business owner Diane Brennan is not waiting for the ordinance. She owns a hair salon on Snelling Avenue and began giving her staff paid sick time in January. Brennan said not only is it the right thing to do, it's also good for business. 

"We work with the public, and we can't be spreading around illnesses, because people come to work because they can't afford to stay home," Brennan said. 

But business owner Mike Schumann does not support the sick leave plan. He owns a furniture store on Grand Avenue and said his employees are like family. Many have been there for more than a decade. 

Schumann said there's no formal sick time policy, but he said everyone looks out for each other when someone's ill.

But he worries about competitors. Schumann said the proposal is unfair to small businesses in St. Paul because most municipalities in the Twin Cities don't have similar laws. 

"All of our competitors are in Woodbury or Roseville or whatever. So when you come up with new rules that we have to follow that don't apply to our competitors, it puts us at a disadvantage," he said. 

However, if St. Paul does pass a sick leave ordinance, it won't be the only city in the area with one. Minneapolis approved a nearly identical measure last month. It goes into effect next summer.

St. Paul will continue accepting online comments on its proposal through July 6. The city council is expected to take it up in August.