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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Sick and safe leave policy not ready

Editorial

Mayor David Condon should veto the sick and safe leave ordinance passed by the Spokane City Council Monday night.

We have no illusions regarding a quick council vote to override. Only Councilman Mike Fagan opposed the measure. And in November, when Condon used his second veto on a proposed change to the comprehensive plan, the council majority was so eager to override they suspended the rules to do the deed.

So with a council bent on managing the private as well as the public sector, it falls to the mayor to lend fast-diminishing credibility to his plan to make Spokane “the city of choice.”

As he noted in a letter to the council urging restraint, businesses will be able to move or start up anywhere else in Eastern Washington or North Idaho that does not impose sick and safe leave. They might consider even Seattle, where similar rules do not apply to businesses with four or fewer employees, and leave accrues at a slower rate: one hour for every 40 hours worked.

The accrual rate will be the same in Tacoma, where a sick and safe leave policy takes effect Feb. 1.

Spokane workers will accrue one hour for every 30 worked, and the rules apply to all employers. Other provisions in the local ordinance also make it more liberal than Seattle’s, which was enacted in 2012.

Last year, that city expanded enforcement under a newly created Office of Labor Standards with subpoena powers, and gave employees the right to sue if they believe their employer has retaliated against them for alleged misuse of the sick or safe leave.

A University of Washington audit of the Seattle program found 70 percent of businesses support the ordinance, but many remained out of compliance three years after its enactment. Some who thought they were in compliance were not.

In Spokane, Condon’s letter to the council noted the potential costs of enforcing the new ordinance: $526,000 a year, according to his estimate, which provides for yet another “public information coordinator” compensated at $81,675 per year.

For the two “certified enforcement specialists” with a compensation package of more than $95,000 that he says will be necessary, think firefighter or police officer instead. Where is the money better spent to protect Spokane citizens, employers and employees?

We agree, as the ordinance itself states, “as many businesses in Spokane already know, providing for employees’ sick and safe leave is affordable for employers and good for business.”

But even altruistic entrepreneurs will ask themselves whether they want the city of Spokane as a business partner intent on raising their costs. There are other choices.

Assuming the council sustains the ordinance, members and the mayor have until October to fine-tune the provisions before it takes effect Jan. 1. Looking at comparisons with the Seattle and Tacoma ordinances suggests there’s much work to be done.

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