Politics & Government

Tacoma sick leave policy could see council vote Tuesday

The Tacoma City Council is poised to vote Tuesday (Jan. 27) on a policy that would require all Tacoma businesses to provide at least three days of paid sick leave to all employees.

In recent council meetings, dozens of people have asked the council to mandate paid days off to care for sick children, to manage chronic illnesses or to deal with stalker or domestic violence problems. A handful of small business owners attending those same meetings have asked the council to keep the status quo.

Last month the council voted 8-0 to advance the issue to to a final vote.

Councilman Ryan Mello says it’s past time that Tacoma require employers to offer paid leave, but he wants more than three days a year.

“Why the current policy says three days makes no sense to me,” Mello said.

That’s the minimum amount employers would be required to allow employees to use in a calendar year. Employees would earn the time off at the rate of one hour of leave per 40 hours worked and would be able to take sick days after 180 days of employment.

Mello said he plans to submit amendments to fix what he says is “the watered-down nature of this draft.”

“I’m having to spend my energy in making sure we can protect all workers equally and not leave any workers behind,” Mello said.

One change he proposes would include union workers on day one of the policy, which would begin next Jan. 1. The current draft excludes workers with union contracts until those agreements expire.

Such workers often work in hospitals, hotels and grocery stores, said Councilman Anders Ibsen.

“It makes no sense to discriminate against people who work in hospitals, hotels or grocery stores by denying them the protection of this ordinance,” Ibsen said.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health voted unanimously to support paid sick leave policies on Wednesday. Board members include Tacoma City Council members Victoria Woodards, who serves as chairwoman, and Marty Campbell.

Campbell said 60 percent of workers in Tacoma have paid sick leave, including many of Tacoma’s small business owners.

“It’s a lot of the out-of-state, for-profit corporations where their business concern is for the shareholder, and not for the employee or the community, where we run into these conflicts,” he said.

The health board supports paid sick leave, the resolution states, because it helps prevent the spread of diseases when people stay home when they are sick.

A proposal before the state Legislature would require businesses to offer between five and nine days of sick leave per year, depending on their size. In last week’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he would help states adopt sick leave policies that allow workers to earn seven days of paid leave.

Under the Tacoma proposal, employers would have to show compliance with the law when renewing a Tacoma business license. City officials estimate that implementing a paid sick leave requirement could cost the city as little as $400,000 and as much as $825,000 in the 2015-16 budget period.