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Sick and Safe Task Force Recommends Council Enact Ordinance

November 20, 2017 10:49 PM

A Duluth City Council Committee of the Whole meeting doesn't typically draw dozens of people, but Monday's did. 

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The Earned Sick and Safe Time taskforce presented its findings after more than a year of studying the issue, and supporters and opposition packed the council chambers to hear more. 

The taskforce recommended the city move forward with enacting an ordinance that would require employers with more than five employees to provide one hour of earned sick and safe time for every 30 hours worked. 

The members came to that conclusion after two online surveys and nine listening sessions. 

"We did hear that both employers and employees were worried about coming forward to the input sessions with their concerns out of fear of retribution from the public and/or their current employer," Co-Chair Angie Miller said. 

Many business leaders spoke at Monday's council meeting, expressing concerns. 

"There's a noticeable piling on taking place within our community," Matt Baumgartner with Grandma's said. "Property taxes are increasing, water rates are increasing, electric rates are increasing."

Baumgartner said the issues cannot be considered separately. Diane Davidson, chief human resources officer for Essentia Health, had similar concerns. 

"As I look at the impact of trying to comply with yet another regulation, I would ask ... your consideration for the burden that puts on businesses."

However, Elizabeth Spehar, who owns the Snooty Fox Tea Shop, said she has less than five employees, yet she has found ways to give them time off. 

"I have a more loyal employee, more happy employee," Spehar said. "I feel good about the integrity that I bring to my business because of that." 

She said that Duluth is a leader in safe, equitable employment practices, and she wants to see that continue with earned sick and safe time. 

"This is good for all of us. This is good for the health of our community," Spehar said. "If I can do it, I would challenge other, more experienced people to take this on. I'm an English major, and I figured out how to make this work for my business."

The Chamber of Commerce has threatened to withdraw support from Duluth's half-percent street sales tax because of this ordinance. Chamber President Dave Ross said at Monday's meeting he was relieved to hear that the ESST ordinance is still a work in progress. 

"This assurance was a great comfort to us," Ross told the council. "There was fear within the business community that this was a process that was coming to a conclusion rather than a milestone."

Many business leaders said they are open to working with the city but have concerns about mandates around casual or seasonal employees, enforcement, new businesses and documentation. 

Carl Sack said when he was working as a substitute teacher, he would go in sick because he couldn't afford to miss work. He encouraged the council to enact a strong ESST ordinance. 

"There's no reason, no reason at all, we can't make this a safe and healthy community for every single working person," Sack said. 

Lyn Pegg agreed and said the challenge is worth it. 

"I have been an employee, and I have been in management," Pegg said. "And I can empathize with the struggle trying to make this thing work."

Pegg said the effort is about more than business. 

"I really believe that health and wellness should not be a commodity. It should be a human right," she said. 

President Joel Sipress scheduled a meeting for Nov. 30 to begin a conversation among councilors. The earliest a councilor could introduce a sick and safe time ordinance would be Dec. 4, and the earliest it could be voted on would be Dec. 11. However, Sipress said he has no desire to rush it. So it's not likely an ordinance would be passed this year. 

More about the recommended ordinance:
-It would apply to employers with a physical location in Duluth.
-It would cover all full-time and part-time employees.
-It could be used for employees themselves, their spouses, children, siblings, mothers- and fathers-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren and step parents. 
-It would not go into effect for 18 months after passing. 

To read the full recommendation, visit the Earned Sick and Safe Time Taskforce website


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