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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Paid sick leave vote put on hold

A proposal to require employers to give their workers paid sick leave won’t be considered by city leaders until after they approve city spending for next year – after the November election.

City Council President Ben Stuckart said some council members had hoped to vote later this month on a plan that would require businesses to offer their workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. That amounts to three days a year for full-time workers.

But he said it likely would have failed had it been up for a vote now, and that some council members and business leaders requested more time for debate.

“I’ve heard enough concerns about moving forward that I think it deserves more time,” Stuckart said. “I want to move forward when I’m confident it will have enough votes to pass.”

Councilman Mike Allen, who opposes the plan, said he believes Stuckart and other members of the liberal-leaning majority mostly want to avoid taking a stand on the issue prior to the November election.

“I don’t think it’s as popular as they think it is,” Allen said. “My sense is they would like to keep their supermajority.”

But Councilwoman Karen Stratton, who is running to keep her seat representing northwest Spokane, said her support for delaying action isn’t about election politics.

She said she supports the requirement for health care-related jobs such as home health care workers, but she is concerned about stipulating it for small businesses. Stratton said she would vote no if a vote was held this month.

“I want to make sure we are being thoughtful and deliberative in our communication with all business,” she said. “I want to make sure that businesses in my district don’t take a hit from it.”

Her opponent in the November election, Evan Verduin, opposes the sick leave policy as currently drafted and said the debate would make more sense on the national level.

“Small businesses aren’t prepared to implement something like that,” said Verduin, who questioned the political motivation for the delay.

Stuckart said an earlier version of the proposal would have required employers to provide more paid sick leave. The draft was changed on the recommendation of the East Spokane Business Association, he said.

Jim Hanley, a member of the business association, said the group suggested three days because that’s closer to the average number of days workers use for sickness.

But he added he doesn’t believe the city should pass any requirement.

“I think that the City Council needs to administer to the city and stick with city business and not get into the details of running businesses,” Hanley said.

Hanley said the business he co-owns, ACME-TV, offers paid sick leave.

“But there are some businesses that are just on the edge,” Hanley said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult it is to make a profit.”

On average, workers who have paid sick leave take 3.9 days per year for illness and 1.3 days to care for sick family members, according to the Center for American Progress.

A recent study completed by the Spokane Regional Health District at the request of supporters of the paid leave policy found that 72 percent of workers in Spokane County have some form of paid sick leave.

But there is a big gap between rich and poor, according to the study. Two-thirds of workers in Spokane County with an annual household income less than $25,000 don’t have paid sick leave. Only 11 percent of workers with a household income of at least $100,000 have no paid sick leave, the study found.

The study says that without paid sick time, some workers go to work sick and send their children to school sick.

“The potential spread of illness to other people thereby impacts the public’s health, which is why paid sick leave policies, in addition to other concerns, are of interest to public health officials,” the study says.

Like Stuckart, Councilman Jon Snyder said he’d be ready to vote in favor of the current draft.

“But I respect that other council members feel we need more time,” he said.