This afternoon, after months of debate and despite continuing hesitancy from some council members, the Seattle City Council voted eight to one in favor of passing an amended ordinance that will empower Seattle employees to begin earning paid sick time off, starting September 1, 2012. Council president Richard Conlin voted against the legislation.
“Today Seattle has shown itself as a leader," said council member Nick Licata, who sponsored the legislation. "We recognize that a productive workforce is a healthy one and that a great city is one that cares for the welfare of all who work within its jurisdiction."
"This was a very difficult topic for me," said council member Tim Burgess, who was instrumental in getting the legislation amended and passed. "I want to make sure both employers and employees in this city can be successful and thrive... [but ultimately] the role of city government is protecting the most vulnerable in our city."
Burgess cited other ways the council has worked to protect the city's most vulnerable: restoring funding for the Seattle Police Department's victims' advocates program, creating a safe haven for teenage prostitutes; passing a wage theft ordinance earlier this year to make wage theft a crime. "Then this issue became before us," Burgess said, affecting “the individuals living paycheck to paycheck. They simply can’t afford to take a day off when they don’t feel well or when their child is sick... When families find themselves making a choice between either working sick or falling behind on their rent payments, the social fabric is damaged."
Conlin opposed the legislation on the grounds that it "differentiates among workers... I don't see how this kind of inequality could be justified." Conlin, of course, didn't justify his own vote for keeping roughly 190,000 Seattle workers without access to any sort of paid sick leave—a much greater form of inequality.
"I agree this bill would benefit from additional amendments," added Sally Bagshaw, who nevertheless voted in favor of it.
Simply put, (and amendments aside) the legislation divides businesses into three tiers according to size, and allows employees in each tier to begin accruing paid time off—leave that can be used for personal illness, to care for a sick child or family member, or to deal with domestic violence issues. Businesses with 5-50 employees will earn one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked (or five days of leave annually); Mid-size businesses with 51-250 employees will earn one hour of leave for every 35 hours worked (up to seven days annually); And large businesses with 250-plus employees will earn one hour for every 30 hours worked (up to nine days annually). Micro-businesses—those with fewer than five employees—will be exempt from the law. Additionally, new Seattle businesses will have up two years to implement a paid sick leave plan.
A year after the law takes effect, the city's Office of Civil Rights and City Auditor will issue a thorough report on how its affect businesses and address any "unintended consequences" of its passage, according to Burgess.