Politics & Government

Tacoma sick leave law passes

Businesses will have to provide employees who work in Tacoma at least three days of paid sick leave beginning next year.

The Tacoma City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to adopt the sick leave law after more than five hours of sometimes rancorous debate.

Councilman David Boe cast the lone no vote.

The council majority didn’t go as far as many in the audience urged, but they did make a key concession by bringing union members into the group of workers who would benefit from the sick leave law immediately. The previous version of the law would have provided sick leave to union employees after the union contracts expired.

Council chambers were filled to capacity, with more people viewing the meeting from another room. The vast majority said they thought Tacoma workers deserved more than the three days of paid leave.

One compromise in the final version will allow workers to use five days of sick leave in the second year of employment if they have accrued unused sick leave during their first year. The law also allows workers to take time off to pursue legal protection against stalkers and domestic abusers.

“For those that find the courage to leave, a sufficient safe and sick leave law will ease the barriers for them,” said LaShawnda Anderson, shelter program manager for the YWCA, which helps women escape domestic violence.

Tom Pierson, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, told the council he supported Mayor Marilyn Strickland’s original proposal to require businesses to give at least three days of sick leave to nonunion employees.

The few business owners who did speak at the meeting urged the council to not pass a law that would be too complicated to follow.

At times the discussion grew into arguments, both on the council dais and by citizens who spoke to the council at the lectern.

However some took it too far, Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said more than three hours into the meeting.

“I appreciate the passion that’s in this room and on the dais,” she said. “But I am really upset about the way we are using that passion to talk to one another. … Tacoma is better than this.

“At the end of this night, paid sick leave will pass in Tacoma. Will it be everything that we want? No.” She told residents to keep “holding our feet to the fire.”

It’s been six weeks since the council first discussed the sick leave ordinance, when it voted 8-0 to advance the proposal. Council members had said they wanted to give the public time to comment on the proposal and to also not act immediately after the holiday season.

The law takes effect Feb. 1, 2016, after a rule-making process.