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Tacoma must do better on paid sick leave ordinance


(Dec. 19, 2014) — “Councilwoman Walker’s son, Michael, works for me at the Seattle Center. Michael is a great worker. I like Michael. What I want to ask is why, is it OK for Michael to earn 7 days of paid sick leave in Seattle, but for the sons and daughters of the people behind me in the audience to earn only three days in Tacoma.”

healthy-tacoma-frontMakini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro and other restaurants in Seattle and Tacoma, brought the house down when she asked this question at the Tacoma City Council meeting on Tuesday evening. The hearing room was packed and dominated by people wanting a stronger Tacoma city ordinance.

To her credit, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland introduced a Paid Safe and Sick Leave ordinance before the City Council. While it was good starting point for the discussion, more than 50 grocery workers, health care workers, religious leaders, labor leaders and civic leaders testified that a final ordinance would have to be much more comprehensive to meet the actual needs of workers in Tacoma.

Pierce County Central Labor Council Secretary Treasurer Patty Rose gave eloquent and impassioned testimony about the need for substantial paid safe and sick leave. She testified both from the perspective as a small employer and the needs of her staff as well as from the perspective of someone who has battled cancer and had adequate paid sick leave to see her through the treatment and recovery process.

A couple local business people supported the three-day leave proposal, with no carry-over of unused days from year to year, and no application to represented workers until their contracts expired. One businessman testified against the ordinance claiming that people had the ability to choose other jobs that had benefits if they wanted them. He said the ordinance was an affront to the free market.

The second reading of the ordinance will occur in January with final adoption scheduled for Jan. 27. We have much work to do between now and then to convince the mayor and the Tacoma City Council that adopting the same ordinance that Seattle makes the most sense from an equity and economic point of view.

We need letters and calls into the City Council and we need to pack the Council Chamber on Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 5:00 p.m.

The following is a letter that I sent to the mayor and the Tacoma City Council yesterday:

Dear Mayor Marilyn Strickland:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Paid Safe and Sick Leave Ordinance on December 16, 2014. On behalf of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and our over 400,000 union members statewide I want to congratulate you on bringing forth an ordinance on this very important part of our social safety net. As I outlined in my testimony, while the ordinance as introduced is a good starting point, I believe the final ordinance can and should be significantly stronger.

In particular, ample evidence and testimony was presented that three days leave is not enough time to meet the needs of workers and their family members. While three days may satisfy the arithmetical average of used sick days in a particular jurisdiction it falls short of providing adequate protection for many workers all the time and for all workers on occasion, e.g., single parents with children and workers with medical emergencies. The ordinance also falls short of actual need by disallowing carry-over of sick days. No minimum level of sick days, whether 3 or 5 or 7 or 9, is enough time to cover serious illnesses that most all workers or their family members suffer at some point in their work/family lives. A final ordinance should allow for the carryover of unused sick days from year to year.

Finally I can think of no good reason to penalize represented workers by denying protections under a final City ordinance until their current contract expires. Even represented workers are often times under extreme pressure from managers to not take sick leave and are disciplined or retaliated against for actually using sick leave. Covering all workers immediately under a city ordinance that both guarantees a minimum level of paid safe and sick leave and enforces that law will significantly reduce this pernicious behavior.

While three days of leave might be the most politically expedient proposal to enact, mirroring the Seattle initiative would not only be more equitable to workers and their families but the consistency of the ordinances would create far less confusion amongst employers and level the playing field for businesses and for attracting qualified labor.

Thank you again for considering these thoughts.

johnson-jeff-13Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

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