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Sick Days for Restaurant Workers Back on Front Burner

By Ted Cox | May 19, 2015 2:30pm
 Ald. Joe Moreno said,
Ald. Joe Moreno said, "The mayor has been very supportive" of efforts to make sick days mandatory.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Aldermen and activists are pushing for mandatory sick days at Chicago businesses — especially restaurants and other food operations.

Citing referendum results from February that found that 82 percent of voters favored paid sick leave for employees, the Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of the grassroots group Arise Chicago, said it was time for the City Council to "roll up your sleeves and get to work."

At a City Hall news conference Tuesday, Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) called a proposed ordinance he introduced a year ago a "starting point" in new efforts to pass the legislation. He added that 40 percent of workers in Chicago do not have paid sick days.

According to Moreno, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is forming a working-families task force to take up the issue, with Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) as chairman.

"The mayor has been very supportive," said Moreno, comparing it to a process that produced a citywide minimum-wage ordinance.

Activists are seeking an ordinance that would set a process for accruing sick days for full- and part-time employees at big and small businesses, but they expressed special concerns about food workers.

Christine Cikowski, owner of Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Avondale, said her business allows for sick days, since proper food preparation is as critical as the food itself in assuring customer safety. But she said chain restaurants that don't allow sick days put her at a competitive disadvantage, while putting the public at risk for food-borne illnesses.

Moreno said he expected restaurants and other food businesses to mount the same sort of opposition they did to the minimum-wage ordinance and to the city's ban on plastic grocery bags.

"Not surprisingly, we're not supportive — like minimum wage — that the citywide mandate is the right way to go about this sort of thing," said Michael Reever, vice president of government relations at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. He said it would make Chicago "an island" and place city businesses at a "competitive disadvantage," especially "border businesses" near the suburbs.

"This is not the time to put another mandate on businesses," Reever added. "It's gonna cut hours. It's gonna cut benefits. It's gonna cut employees being hired."

Yet Moreno suggested that restaurants opposed to mandatory sick days should post signs saying: "Our employees may be sick when they're serving you."

The Mayor's Press Office acknowledged Tuesday that Emanuel is forming a working-families task force and is "actively working with the paid-sick-leave coalition" to reach an agreeable compromise. Reever said the Chamber of Commerce would participate in that process.

Activists want to set standards for accruing sick days, to be used for personal or family illness, domestic or sexual violence and school closings, and other business suspensions for public-safety issues.

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