Our Views: Sick leave ideas should be taken cautiously
Tacoma City Council should steer clear of enacting a law that mandates sick leave policies for businesses operating within the city. Healthy Tacoma, a coalition of labor activists, is pushing for a rule that would require employers with fewer than 10 workers to grant their workers one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, for up to 40 hours of paid time off a year. A business with more than 10 workers would have to grant up to 72 hours, or nine work days, of paid time off. Employers with more than 250 workers are looking at 108 hours, or 13.5 days a year. This would be on top of any vacation time the company offers.
Such a policy could be a burden on small, independent businesses. A similar law enacted in Seattle recently has generated controversy. The Seattle law not only impacts businesses located in the Emerald City. It also applies to businesses that are based in other cities that have employees who spend part of their work time in Seattle, such as delivering a package, making a sales call or attending a seminar. The Seattle law led to bills in the Legislature, backed by Republicans and business groups, that sought to weaken it. A bill that would have expanded Seattle’s policy to the entire state did not make it to a vote in the Legislature. Were the council to pass a sick-leave ordinance, an individual or group could use the power of referendum to try to overturn it.
The proposal for Tacoma does more than address missing work due to illness. The second part of “Paid Sick and Safe Time” addresses domestic violence. A victim of domestic violence could miss work to go to court to obtain a restraining order and get paid for that time. The need for someone in that situation to seek protection through the legal system is understandable. But it seems ill placed to put the burden on an employer. A boss has no input on whom his or her workers choose to enter into a relationship with, so why should the employer pay an employee for time spent in a courtroom dealing with issues unrelated to employment? And would this also apply to the wide range of other reasons people need to go to court?
The activists in Healthy Tacoma seek to convince enough members of the city council (meaning lining up five votes) to achieve a political goal. Those advocating for this policy have their political efforts in full swing. They are encouraging supporters to make phone calls and send e-mails and post cards to council members, urging our elected city officials to take action.
The council should refuse to play ball. Healthy Tacoma, just as other groups, can use the initiative process to put this on the ballot for all voters in the city to decide. However, that entails the time needed to gather signatures and educate the public on the topic, as well as the money that must be raised to run a successful political campaign.
If this policy is that important to them, Healthy Tacoma can go that route. The council needs to focus on running the city government, not trying to set burdensome policies for businesses.
Letter to the Editor
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