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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Crowd pushes Spokane City Council on sick-leave policy

The Spokane City Council on Monday stood by their decision made nearly a year ago to enact a requirement that employers provide sick leave to their workers.

The revised city law passed by a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Mike Fagan voting no.

The council heard more than an hour of public testimony on revisions of the city’s paid sick and safe leave policy, which will be overtaken by state law once this fall’s successful Initiative 1433 is implemented.

“This is something that should be done,” said John Lemus, of Spokane, in arguing for the council to approve revisions to the sick-leave policy.

Business leaders asked the council to reject the city sick-leave requirement and wait for implementation of I-1433, which won a majority of nearly 60 percent in last week’s state election.

Council President Ben Stuckart said the requirement that employers provide sick leave will make Spokane a better place for all workers.

Several people testified that caregivers and food service workers need to stay home when they get a virus or other contagious disease, but many are not covered by sick leave.

Todd Mielke, CEO at Greater Spokane Inc., the regional chamber of commerce organization, said 70 percent of workers in the city already have sick leave. But the city law and state initiative pose significant uncertainties for businesses who now must tailor their sick-leave programs to both pieces of legislation, he said.

Stuckart said the revisions under consideration Monday would lapse once the state initiative goes into effect or at the end of 2017, whichever comes last.

Stuckart earlier said the city ordinance provides a “bridge year” for employers who have to comply.

Karen Dorn Steele, of the Spokane Alliance of churches, said the city ordinance gives workers who currently do not have sick leave at least one additional year with that benefit. She described the sick-leave requirement as an important social justice issue.

But Andrew Rolwes, public policy manager for the Downtown Spokane Partnership business organization, said, “The worry is mandate will pile up on top of mandate.”

Business advocates said success is often a razor-thin margin of a few percentage points, and requiring sick leave will endanger businesses on the margin.

Council member Lori Kinnear said startups would be exempt.

The city law also reduces the sick-leave mandate to three days for the smallest business and five days for medium and larger employers.

Stuckart said businesses with paid time off programs will be in compliance.

Employers have been notified by mail that they can certify compliance at a city website.

The city will only investigate complaints by workers and then try to gain compliance by educating employers on the law, Stuckart said.

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