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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Rep. Marcus Riccelli and Shahrokh Nikfar: McMorris Rodgers’ bill undermines paid sick leave

By Rep. Marcus Riccelli and Shahrokh Nikfar For The Spokesman-Review

As a state legislator and a small-business owner, we both support paid sick leave. Throughout 2017, Spokane’s ordinance has helped keep our families and workplaces healthy and economically secure. Working people statewide will also have this common-sense protection starting in January.

Unfortunately, a bill recently introduced in Congress threatens the protections our city and state have adopted for working families and small businesses. If it passes, large corporations would be allowed to ignore our state and local paid sick leave laws.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is one of the co-sponsors of the misleadingly titled “WorkFlex in the 21st Century” bill. Under it, employers who met a vague threshold of paid time off and offered a flexible work option to a portion of their employees could sidestep state or local paid sick leave laws like Spokane’s ordinance.

While the proposal may sound reasonable at first to some, the details reveal some troubling provisions. For example, there is no requirement at all that employees can use paid time off for medical appointments, or to care for a sick child or ailing parent, or to seek safety in cases of domestic violence – all provisions our city and state laws include.

It also would not protect employees from being fired or retaliated against when they use sick leave for authorized purposes, as our local policies currently do. However, the proposed federal law would allow a boss to deny time off to someone with a highly contagious illness or whose child is sick if it would “unduly disrupt” business operations. That’s the kind of slippery slope our laws are specifically written to prevent.

The bill’s true objective appears to be undermining reasonable measures at the state and local levels to help ensure working people can follow doctor’s orders and stay home when they’re sick or tend to an ill family member without having their pay docked or being fired from their job. Both our experience and the available evidence confirm the benefits of such laws. They help maintain a healthy workforce. They sustain buying power. They keep people attached to their jobs and able to be more productive. And they support strong families.

Anything designed to weaken state or local paid sick leave laws raises a big red flag for us. We find it particularly outrageous that the federal proposal is described as a boost to small businesses. A bill that lets big companies decide which state and local laws they will obey and which ones they won’t certainly doesn’t benefit small businesses. But it does create a lopsided playing field that hurts the very communities and customers small businesses proudly serve.

Proponents of the measure claim it is needed for companies that have to comply with multiple laws that vary in specifics. To that we say, welcome to the global economy! Companies with multiple locations in multiple jurisdictions deal with this all the time with regard to taxes, zoning, wage levels and more. They continue to survive and earn profits nonetheless.

We think there’s a better solution. Rather than providing the minimum time off required, how about creating one policy for the company that provides employees with the paid time off and flexibility they need to stay healthy, care for their families and be productive contributors to the business and their communities?

Trying to undermine paid sick leave laws goes against the very values people in Spokane and across our state stood up for when they voted in favor of these policies. Both of us strongly believe our current laws are better than this new proposal, and undermining them would take us backward instead of forward. We continue to support our local and state policies that put the people of this Washington first, and ask congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to stand with us and not with the other Washington.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, represents the 3rd Legislative District. Shahrokh Nikfar is the owner of Caffe Affogato and a member of the Main Street Alliance and the Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance.

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