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Plan To Give All Workers Paid Sick Leave Gets Initial OK From Aldermen

By Ted Cox | June 16, 2016 2:40pm
 Ald. Ameya Pawar confers with committee Chairman Patrick O'Connor during Thursday's hearing on sick leave.
Ald. Ameya Pawar confers with committee Chairman Patrick O'Connor during Thursday's hearing on sick leave.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — All workers in Chicago would get paid sick days as early as next summer under a plan approved Thursday by a City Council committee over the objections of business interests and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).

According to Melissa Josephs of Women Employed, which spearheaded the proposal along with Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), it would require all employers to offer sick leave to employees who earn it.

Workers would get a minimum of an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours they work, or a day per eight weeks or a full week for every 40 weeks worked for full-time employees. Five sick days would be the maximum for a full year.

It would also apply to part-time workers who put in 80 hours over four months. Some workers in the trades would not be covered by the measure, though most already get sick leave under their union contracts.

 Ald. Tom Tunney said that
Ald. Tom Tunney said that "while it's the right thing to do," the sick-leave ordinance puts additional burdens on small businesses.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Josephs called it the "minimum standard" for paid sick leave, saying it was "particularly a problem for the lowest-paid workers." She estimated 460,000 Chicago private-sector employees receive no sick leave and face firings for absences.

The issue was of particular interest to food workers and the restaurants that employ them.

"It's very unappetizing to see a sick worker serving food," said Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, owner of Dimo's Pizza, with outlets in Wrigleyville and Wicker Park. Yet, he also took issue with the complexity of the ordinance.

"It's a smart idea," he said, "but it does need to be simple and it does need to be effective."

Tunney, owner of the Ann Sather restaurants, raised similar concerns.

"While it's the right thing to do," he granted, "we as employers are besieged." Tunney cited estimates that the sick-leave ordinance would add up to 1.3 percent to an employer's payroll costs, but said that was on top of payments demanded by the Affordable Care Act.

Tunney said payroll costs at his restaurants had risen from 33 percent of income, ideally equal with other production costs and overhead, to 43 percent, throwing the business model for many restaurants and small businesses out of balance.

Tunney said legislation like this was leading to the "corporatization of business. Either you're going to get bigger or you're going to die." As an example in Lakeview, he added, "We need another CVS like we need a hole in the head."

Bigger business groups agreed.

Michael Reever, of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, called the proposal "extremely anti-competitive for employers in the city" compared with those "outside of the city."

Tanya Triche, spokeswoman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said it gave "no consideration ... to address the needs of small employers." She called it "a mandate to employers" while "telling small-business owners to just figure it out."

"Some have called this a compromise," Reever said, "but you can't have a compromise when it's given on a take-it-or-leave-it basis."

Bridget Early, of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said the compromise had already been worked out through Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Working Families Task Force, including business interests like the Illinois Retail Merchant Association. She urged the Workforce Development Committee to pass it without watering it down.

"No one should be forced to choose between their health and their employment," Early said.

Pawar, who was co-chairman of the task force on the issue, along with representatives of Women Employed, spoke only briefly on the matter, but shepherded it through the committee.

The committee approved the measure with no opposition, though Tunney had left for another meeting by then.

The measure now moves on to the full City Council for possible final approval Wednesday, with an effective date if enacted of July 1, 2017.

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