Portland to Discuss Paid Sick Leave Requirement

The city of Portland, Ore., is planning to discuss a proposal by the Everybody Benefits community coalition that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees. The coalition is made up of labor, community and business groups and is seeking to follow in the footsteps of San Francisco and other cities that have successfully passed similar ordinances. 

The Northwest Labor Press reports:

Andrea Paluso, coordinator of the Everybody Benefits coalition, said the issue couldn’t be timelier. Winter is high season for flu and norovirus (a highly contagious stomach virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is forecasting an early and severe flu season this year. Meanwhile, by mid-December, public health officials in Multnomah County were investigating up to eight outbreaks of norovirus, including one linked to an infected food handler that sickened 90 visitors to the Oregon Zoo, and another that sickened more than 30 students and staffers at Buckman Elementary School in Southeast Portland. Norovirus outbreaks occur in daycare centers, nursing homes, restaurants and schools, and CDC recommends that workers not prepare food for others while they are sick with norovirus, and for at least two to three days after recovery.

But up to 40 percent of Portland workers—including nearly all restaurant workers—have no paid sick leave of any kind, Paluso says. Without paid sick leave, workers lose wages and may even face discipline in some workplaces if they stay home because they or a child is sick. Workers who lack sick leave are more likely to go to work sick or to send their kids to school sick, and that spreads illness to others.

“It’s a huge problem,” Paluso said: “260,000 workers in the Portland area alone don’t have access to paid sick days.”

In 2012, canvassers for Working America—the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate for workers without a union—delivered 3,000 letters in support of the proposal.  Working America also talked to more than 11,000 Portland residents about the proposal. A poll in August showed that 60% of residents supported the idea, compared to only 15% who opposed.

The Everybody Benefits coalition rejects claims from critics that the proposal is a job-killer:

Many business owners support earned sick days because they know it’s good for their workers, their customers and their bottom lines. Businesses benefit from allowing their employees paid sick days. Evidence suggests that earned sick days help businesses keep the workplace healthier, reduce turnover and improve worker productivity.

Workers who come in sick spread their illness and cost our national economy $160 billion annually in lost productivity.7 Employees with earned sick days are more likely to stay in their jobs. Every time an employee leaves a job, it costs the employer 25 to 200 percent of a worker’s total compensation, on average, to replace that worker.

Finally, real life experience provides proof that paid sick days have been good for business. San Francisco enacted a paid sick days law for all employees citywide in 2007. Today, two-thirds of businesses in the city say they support the policy. The number of small and large businesses in the city has grown since 2007 and growth has been stronger than in the surrounding five counties. And San Francisco has recently rated as one of the best places in the world to do business.

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