If this ordinance passes, in the very near future, all Portland businesses – large and small – will be either giving workers time off, or paying for ‘Sick Time’. Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz makes her case …
Midway Business Association President Bill Dayton introduces Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz at the group’s February meeting.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Members and guests of the Midway Business Association (MBA) ended up involved in a lively discussion on February 12, after Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, a member of the group, spoke to the 19 people attending this luncheon meeting.
After member introductions and announcements by MBA President Bill Dayton of Pizza Baron, Commissioner Fritz stepped up to speak. Before she began her talk, she polled the group to find out how many employers, employees, and independent contractors were present.
“It looks like we have a smattering of all these categories represented here,” Fritz began. “The proposal that’s on the table is for ‘earned sick leave’ that would be paid, or unpaid, depending on the size of the business.”
Specifically, she added, employees of companies with six or more employees would be granted compensation for sick time; for five employees and under, that time off would also be required, but would not be paid.
“People are coming to work when they are sick,” Fritz said. “They should be able to stay home. The recession has made this worse. Both employers and employees are really struggling to make ends meet.
Commission Fritz expresses her concern for workers who feel they must go to work, even when ill.
“I heard last year from a lot of employees who felt that they couldn’t ‘not show up’ for work. This was, they said, partly because they needed to earn a paycheck, and partly because that was the right thing to do during the recession. As a result we’ve had people with the flu, norovirus, and a number of other things – people coming to work, and sick children going to school.
“This is a public health issue,” Fritz insisted. “As you may recall, I am a retired registered nurse.”
One hour for 30 worked
The essence of the regulation, Fritz said, is that anyone who works within the City of Portland would be eligible to earn sick time. “It’s not something that would be provided on the first day of the year. For every 30 hours worked, the employee gets one hour of earned sick time – either paid or unpaid, depending on the size of the business.”
The ordinance was first before the City Council in January. “Myself and Commissioner Saltzman are assembling a task force. We’ll have another hearing on it, probably with some amendments, after the task force finishes its work.”
Amanda Fritz listens to a question put to her at the meeting.
Many questions asked
Because her time was limited at the meeting, Fritz opened the meeting to questions.
Q East Portland News asked, “Why is enacting this – creating this measure – the City’s business?”
A “Well it actually isn’t,” Fritz responded. “I think it should be a national standard, like minimum wage, and [it would be] much easier to do at the state level. Part of the challenge of doing it in Portland-only – like Seattle and San Francisco did, only in their jurisdictions – is how do you track people who work partly in Gresham, and partly in Portland, for example? How do you track the hours?
“Why the City is doing it – why I am doing this – is because it’s time that people should not be afraid of being fired for calling in sick,” Fritz added.
Q Accountant Kevin Minkoff asked, “What percentage of employees [in Portland] do not currently have any kind of sick leave provision? Most big companies have some kind of sick leave policy. Typically the standard is a day of sick leave for a month of work – as opposed to an hour of sick leave for 30 hours worked.”
A Fritz said, “About 60% of employees in Portland – an estimate, currently – have some measure of paid sick time; that means 40% of employers do not. [The workers affected] tend to be the lower-income folks, and people of color.”
The “Earned Sick Leave” ordinance she’s championing is modeled on one that went into effect in San Francisco, Fritz says.
“San Francisco voted and accepted this policy in 2006, and put it into effect in 2007,” Fritz said. “That’s where we get the most data from. Frankly, there are not a lot of studies on either side – whether it is effective, and what the impact on the businesses is.”
She observed that a similar policy went into effect in Seattle in 2012.
“This measure would go into effect in January of 2014, roughly along the same lines as Seattle. If it does go into effect, we will spend the summer making Administrative Rules for specifically how this would work.”
Q Jim Braet of True Legends/Fun Fabrics asked, “Does the city have the power to enforce this?”
A “Yes, we do,” Fritz replied.
Jim Braet says that the ordinance is a de facto minimum wage raise of about $.30 an hour.
Q Braet continued, “Oregon has some of the highest minimum wages in the country, so does Seattle. This would basically raise the minimum wage here by about $.30 an hour, plus administration costs, right?”
Fritz challenged him, “How do you come up with that?”
“At $10 an hour, with ‘contributing’ one-hour-of-30, that’s a 3% increase.”
A Fritz responded, “Studies in San Francisco say that most employees do not take the maximum amount of sick time available to them; a quarter of them take none.”
Q “Is it ‘Use it or lose it?” another guest asked.
A “It does roll over into the next year. There are proposals for putting in [checks to indicate] patterns of abuse.”
Q “Why is it that employers required to pay for this ‘sick time’ is set at six employees or more?” asked Bill Dayton of Pizza Baron.
A “The aspiration is that eventually it would be. This [exception] was in response to small businesses that recognize that Portland is a town of small businesses, and concern about the challenges of the recession. We’re looking at, that maybe, ‘start-ups’ would not have to do it for two years. Some have asked for some sort of profitability and income tax exemptions – but, there is there no way a look at how a business is doing. That’s one of the reasons we propose that everybody would have the basic protections.”
Q David Edwards of David Edwards Insurance asked, “What about those who, for example, are in an industry such as being an insurance agent? I can’t raise my rates; I can’t increase the premiums to cover the additional expense.”
A Fritz didn’t directly answer Edwards’ question, but said, “Independent contractors do not fall as employees under state law.” She gave yoga instructors as an example. “We are looking at some exemptions were it doesn’t make any sense.”
After Fritz departed the meeting, a lively discussion continued, mostly critical of the measure.
“One concern is that,” said Minkoff rhetorically, “currently, supposedly, a company can fire a person for any reason. Does this mean now that a person cannot be fired if they claim it’s because they were claiming to be sick?”
Commissioner Fritz says she welcomes input from businesspeople regarding the “Earned Time Sick Leave” ordinance.
Final vote delayed
On the City’s original timetable, the Portland City Council was to hear the measure on February 27 and vote on March 6. The hearing was rescheduled to Thursday, March 7th at 3:00 p.m. This hearing is open to the public.
Commissioner Fritz is seeking input on the measure. Contact her and leave your thoughts by e-mail at email@example.com.
March 12 next Midway Business Association meeting
Come learn about this business group dedicated to helping neighbors and businesses improve the southern end of outer East Portland.
Remember, visitors ARE welcome and the presentation is free (but you pay for your own lunch). Their meeting runs from 11:45 AM until 1 PM at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Ave., just south of Division St. For more information, see their website: CLICK HERE.
© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News