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Spokane City Council makes sick leave policy a priority

Paid sick leave shot to the front of the Spokane City Council’s agenda this year, as council members vowed Tuesday to quickly pass a policy to provide workers the opportunity to earn hours reserved for unplanned emergencies or unforeseen health issues.

Councilman Jon Snyder, who has worked for the past year with the Spokane Alliance to craft a citywide paid sick leave policy, called it a “popular, important bipartisan issue.” He said the council would immediately pass a resolution supporting citywide paid sick leave, and promised that a city law enforcing the proposal would be voted on by the council this summer.

The push for paid sick time officially launched Tuesday in the newly opened Saranac Commons on East Main Avenue before a crowd of more than 50 supporters. Kate Hansen, owner of Sante Restaurant and Charcuterie; Scott Cooper from Catholic Charities; Bill Lockwood, a local physician; and Madeline Sells, a counselor at Grant Elementary, spoke in favor of the proposal.

The Spokane Alliance – a progressive coalition of religious organizations, labor and health groups – organized the event and handed over a year’s worth of research on the topic, as well as proposed wording for an ordinance, to the council.

The group’s proposals include earning one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, allowing employees to use sick time after 90 days of employment and enumerating the reasons for its use, such as illness, injury, preventive care or caring for a sick family member.

The proposal would require all employers to provide sick leave, no matter the number of employees, but the larger the company, the more paid time it must provide.

“This is a good starting point,” Snyder said, noting that the policy was likely to change as the council began working on it.

Michael Cathcart, government affairs director with the Spokane Home Builders Association, said his group was “very concerned” with the proposal and generally advocated for “lower regulatory and tax burdens.”

“Whenever you create more of these regulations, it adds a higher cost, which gets passed on to consumers,” said Cathcart, who recently wrote an article in his organization’s quarterly newsletter condemning the “regulatory scheme.”

Cathcart said providing sick time comes with costs beyond earned hours.

“They can come with pretty onerous tracking requirements and reporting requirements,” he said.

Currently, 18 other cities require paid sick leave, including Seattle and Tacoma, as well as three states.

Jim Dawson, campaign director of the statewide liberal organization Fuse, said national trends show that enforcing sick leave policies costs an additional 9 to 16 cents per hour for every employee. That amounts to about 1 percent of an employee’s wage in Washington, which has the nation’s highest minimum wage.

According to the Alliance, 40,000 workers in Spokane don’t have paid sick time. The group cited numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 20 percent of all food illnesses originate with a sick food worker.

According to Dawson, who sits on the executive committee of the Spokane Alliance, the group met with 50 local businesses and nonprofit groups, and held forums attended by 500 people while it crafted a proposed policy for the city.

“We’ll continue to work with the City Council, and we’ll continue to show the huge amount of support these policies have in our community,” he said.

State Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, suggested he did not support paid sick leave in a video released Monday by the Spokane GOP.

“When I was doing the math on our business, that will conservatively cost us an extra $23,000 a year, just very conservatively the first time I read those numbers,” said Parker, who owns six Dutch Bros. coffee stands. “But that’s also operating under the assumption that employers are not treating their employees right.”

Parker, who was in committee most of the day Tuesday, was unable to be reached.

Snyder said Parker missed a larger point.

“At some point, we need to look at the welfare of the community, not just his individual business,” he said. “The broad benefit is pretty clear.”



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