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Portland councilmembers vote to require sick leave

Mar 13, 2013


By STEVEN DUBOIS
Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — The Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to mandate that businesses offer sick leave, becoming the fourth U.S. city to take such action.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the chief proponent of the measure, described the vote as historic, and urged state lawmakers to follow Portland's lead and make it Oregon law.

“Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘Do what you believe in your heart is right, because you'll be criticized anyway,’” Fritz said. “I believe in my heart that this is right.”

The new policy requires Portland employers to give workers up to five days of sick leave each year, with employees earning one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. Businesses with at least six workers must offer paid sick leave. Smaller companies can provide unpaid time off.

The ordinance also covers workers employed by companies in other cities that work the equivalent of 30 full-time days in Portland. Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, said that is too far-reaching. “They are biting off more than they can chew,” he said.

With Wednesday's vote, Portland follows Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in requiring earned sick time. The Philadelphia City Council is expected to vote on a similar measure Thursday. That city's mayor vetoed such an ordinance in 2011.

Supporters of the Portland's effort said the law will improve public health by allowing workers stay home sick without fear of losing a day's pay or getting fired. Forty percent of Portland workers currently do not get sick leave.

Susan Lund, who works at Fred Meyer, a Portland retail-and-grocery store, was joyous after the council's vote. Her company already provides sick pay, but workers can't access it until the third day of an illness.

“I can't afford that; I absolutely can't,” Lund said. “So if my children are sick, if I'm sick, I now have a little cushion to fall back on.”

Gilliam said making the first two days of sick leave unpaid is vital in the perishable-foods industry because it cuts down on workers taking paid days off when they aren't really sick. He said there are high absentee rates around three-day holidays and events like the Super Bowl. Gilliam and other business leaders said the city should have granted exemptions to certain employers.

“Our criticism is that it's very myopic and one-size-fits-all,” he said. “And it's going to cost the city jobs.”

Fritz acknowledged there will be costs to businesses, but said change can't come without sacrifice. She and other commissioners said many Portland companies came forward to support the ordinance, and sick leave is not a radical concept.

“This is not an extreme left-wing idea,” Commissioner Steve Novick said. “One of my conservative friends, who constantly tells me that the United States is going to hell in a Communist hand-basket, constantly holds out Singapore as a shining example of unbridled capitalism. But Singapore has earned sick leave.”

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