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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
LGBT group backs sick pay proposal
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LGBT group backs sick pay proposal

by C.J. Bille - Special to the SGN

A proposal to require all businesses in the City of Seattle to provide paid sick leave to their employees has won a key LGBT endorsement.

Pride At Work, a constituent group within the AFL-CIO, is listed among more than 70 organizations that make up the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce. The coalition is urging passage of a city ordinance that would provide workers at companies with 10 or more employees up to 72 hours (nine full days) sick leave per year, accrued at the rate of one hour of leave for every 30 hours of work. Workers at firms with fewer than 10 employees could accrue up to 40 hours (five days) of paid leave per year. They could use the benefit after 90 days of continuous employment (or sooner, if the employer agrees). Companies that use a 'paid time off' system that lumps sick leave in with vacation could continue to do so.

Paid sick leave could be used for personal illness or to care for a sick family member. Pride At Work spokesperson Michael Andrew told SGN that state law would require such a bill to include caring for a same-sex partner.

If the City Council approves, Seattle will become the fourth city in the United States to require sick leave for all workers in both the public and private sector. The other three cities are San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Milwaukee's law is being challenged by the state and has not taken effect.) Several other cities and states are considering such a law, including Denver, Philadelphia, New York City, and Connecticut.

Supporters say 190,000 workers in Seattle (40 percent of the workforce) currently lack paid sick days, meaning they lose income if they take a day off due to illness. These employees are heavily concentrated in the hospitality and health-care industries, including restaurants, grocery stores, and assisted living facilities. In such occupations, the potential for sick workers to spread contagious illness to the public is especially high.

Opponents (including the Seattle Times editorial page) have decried the proposal as one more burden on small businesses, but supporters say experience has not borne this out. The coalition cites a recent study of the San Francisco law, which found it added only 11 cents to the cost of a typical restaurant meal. The average employee, according to the study, took only three days of sick leave per year, despite being eligible for five days or more. Supporters also point out that without a law covering everyone, businesses that do provide sick leave are placed at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis those that do not.

Organizers hope to see the bill passed before flu season begins this fall. Councilmember Nick Licata has agreed to sponsor the ordinance and plans to introduce it in the next few weeks. At least two other councilmembers have expressed support for the idea, while others have said they are waiting to see the bill's actual language.

More information about the campaign can be found at www.seattlehealthyworkforce.org. A detailed analysis of the proposal by the nonprofit Economic Opportunity Institute is available at www.eoionline.org.

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