Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland plans to propose in the next few weeks that the City Council require that businesses based in Tacoma offer their employees paid sick leave.
Strickland said Monday that she and other council members still have to iron out the details, but her goal is to pass a sick-leave law by the end of the year.
A few of Strickland’s ideas were posted online last week by the Washington Retail Association after the mayor was invited to speak to the association about a possible citywide law.
Strickland expects the final version to incorporate suggestions from others, including the advocacy group Healthy Tacoma, which has promoted a mandatory sick-leave policy for nearly two years.
“We have to be realistic,” Strickland said. “This has to work for employees and employers, and this has to be a compromise.”
In the version discussed with the retail association, the law would apply to all businesses and nonprofits based in Tacoma. Businesses would be required to show proof of a sick-leave policy, such as an employee manual, when owners renew city business licenses.
Businesses would have to offer workers three days of sick leave per year, and employees could earn it at a rate of one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked.
Tacoma would be the third city in the state to mandate paid sick leave behind Seattle and SeaTac. State law does not require employers to offer paid sick leave.
Several council members said Monday that they are generally supportive of the idea, but need more details.
“I think there is a majority of us that agree that people should not have to choose between going to work sick to make rent or put food on the table, or staying home to take care of themselves and get healthy and get back to work as soon as possible,” Councilman Ryan Mello said.
Some early reviews of the proposal discussed at the retail association meeting were not as supportive.
Rollie Herman, an owner of WestPac Marine, said he employs five, including himself, and offers more sick leave than the mayor’s proposed three days per year.
“It helps me keep happy and healthy employees,” he said. “Hopefully they don’t come in and infect me and vice-versa.”
But Herman is leery of a requirement to put his sick leave policy in writing.
“My employee manual is a handshake with my employees, as most small businesses are,” he said. Businesses would have to draft a document, he said. “… Are you going to do that without passing it by your attorney?”
Meanwhile, Healthy Tacoma officials are upset that the policy may not include employees working under union contracts.
Sandy Restrepo, the group’s coordinator, said many of Tacoma’s unionized health care and grocery workers cannot take paid sick leave on the first day they are sick. Employees must first call in sick for a day or two before receiving sick pay on the following day — and many cannot afford that kind of hit on a paycheck.
Restrepo also said that three days is not enough sick leave. “If you have the flu you are going to need at least a week” of time off, she said.
Councilman David Boe, who owns and manages a Tacoma architecture firm, said he would prefer a uniform statewide policy. He also doesn’t see money in the city’s 2015-2016 budget to administer and enforce a mandatory paid sick-leave policy.
Boe said in an email that he prefers a voluntary program that recognizes audited businesses with adequate sick-leave policies as a “healthy Tacoma company.”
While she prefers a federal or state standard for paid sick leave, Strickland said, “We are not going to get progress at the federal or state level.”
Strickland said she’s not sure when the policy would take effect, but it could be more than six months after passage.
“I want a policy that is simple, straightforward and easy for employees and employers to keep track of,” she said.
Councilwoman Lauren Walker said she’s encouraged that the mayor is in talks on the issue after some have opposed it for so long.
“We are not Seattle. We are not San Francisco,” she said, mentioning two cities with a paid sick leave law. “We have a different climate here.”