Workers rights go local: Seattle mandates paid sick leave


Seattle businesses with at least five employees will be required to offer paid sick leave under an ordinance approved Sept. 12 by Seattle City Council.

Public health was the rationale for the measure. Workers without sick leave lose wages when they call in sick, so they’re more likely to go to work sick, exposing co-workers and customers. Children are more likely to be sent to school sick if their parents must lose wages to care for them. Under the new ordinance, workers will be allowed to use the sick leave to care for themselves or immediate family members.

The measure was proposed in May by a coalition of 70 labor and community groups. It was strongly opposed by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. But it enjoyed wide public support in Seattle. A late August poll of likely voters by Grove Insight opinion research found that 69 percent supported the measure, while only 22 percent opposed it.

In the days leading up to the vote, union members and other supporters of the measure flooded city council with phone calls, postcards and emails. City Council members received over 1,000 emails. Supporters also rallied and filled council chambers the day of the vote. The vote was 8 to 1 in favor.

The measure requires established companies with 5 to 49 employees to provide at least five days a year of paid sick leave. Companies with 50-249 employees would provide at least seven days, and those over 250 at least nine.

The ordinance will take effect Sept. 1, 2012. Employees start earning the time off after six months on the job. Businesses less than two years old would be exempt from the requirement.

The Economic Opportunity Institute, an independent public policy research center, estimated that  190,000 of Seattle’s 500,000 workers don’t currently have paid sick leave, but would get it under the ordinance. That includes nearly 30,000 in accommodation and food service, 20,000 in retail, and close to 20,000 in health services.

San Francisco and Washington D.C. passed similar ordinances in 2008. Milwaukee voters approved a sick leave initiative in 2008, but that measure was nullified this year by the Republican majority in the Wisconsin state legislature. And the Philadelphia city council passed a sick leave ordinance in June 2011 that was vetoed by its mayor.

Connecticut became the first state to pass such a requirement in June 2011. The Connecticut law requires five days a year of paid sick leave, and applies to hourly workers in service sector businesses of 50 or more employees.

As to whether Portland would consider such an ordinance, a spokesperson said Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ office would have to look into it.



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