PORTLAND, Ore. — The City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to make Portland the fourth U.S. city to mandate that businesses offer sick leave, requiring employers to give workers up to five days of sick leave each year.
The number of cities could soon expand to five. Philadelphia City Council members are expected to vote on a similar measure on Thursday.
Portland follows Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in requiring earned sick time. Connecticut is the only state to pass such a law, but sick-leave bills have been introduced in Oregon, Washington, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont.
“All of this is building the critical mass that we’re going to need to pass it on the federal level,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values (at) Work, an advocacy group that works for paid sick days.
Portland’s new policy says employees can earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked and businesses with at least six workers must offer paid sick leave. Smaller companies can provide unpaid time off.
Supporters of Portland’s effort said the law will improve public health by allowing workers to stay home sick without fear of losing a day’s pay or getting fired. Forty percent of Portland’s private-sector workers currently do not get sick leave.
Susan Lund, who works at Fred Meyer, a Portland retail-and-grocery store, was joyous after the council’s vote. Her company already provides sick pay, but workers can’t access it until the third day of an illness.
“I can’t afford that. I absolutely can’t,” she said. “So if my children are sick, if I’m sick, I now have a little cushion to fall back on.”
Making the first two days of sick leave unpaid is vital in the perishable-foods industry because it cuts down on workers taking paid days off when they aren’t really sick, Northwest Grocery Association president Joe Gilliam said. For example, there tend to be high absentee rates around three-day holidays and events like the Super Bowl, he said.
Gilliam and other business leaders said Portland should have granted exemptions to certain employers.
“Our criticism is that it’s very myopic and one-size-fits-all,” he said. “And it’s going to cost the city jobs.”
Opponents of mandatory sick leave are seeking to limit the ability of cities to pass such measures. Legislation to that effect is being considered in Florida, Washington, Mississippi and Michigan.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed such an ordinance in 2011.
Bravo said she believes the Philadelphia council can override another expected veto. There’s more support from unions this time around and among new council members, she said.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the chief proponent of the Portland measure, acknowledged there will be costs to businesses, but said many Portland companies came forward to support the ordinance.
“This is not an extreme left-wing idea,” Commissioner Steve Novick said. “One of my conservative friends, who constantly tells me that the United States is going to hell in a Communist hand-basket, constantly holds out Singapore as a shining example of unbridled capitalism. But Singapore has earned sick leave.”
Gilliam said one provision in the ordinance is too far-reaching. Workers who are employed by companies in other cities but work the equivalent of 30 full-time days a year in Portland are also covered by the new policy.
“They are biting off more than they can chew,” Gilliam said.