University of Washington economist Jennifer Romich presented an audit of the city's paid sick leave ordinance to the Seattle City Council this week. Her findings boil down to this: it's an excellent program, with room to grow.
"Costs to employers and impact on businesses are very modest and smaller than anticipated," Romich says in her presentation. "Many employers support the Ordinance"—70 percent of them, in fact—"and workers view it as helpful."
And: "The majority of employers"—96 percent of them, according to her research—"are offering paid leave although gaps remain." You can read her report here (PDF). Another study, from the Main Street Alliance of Washington, reached similar conclusions last fall.
"The study shows that one, the apocalypse did not happen," Council Member Nick Licata tells me. "Businesses have in fact prospered and grown, faster than in surrounding cities that do not have paid sick leave."
"And two, there are still businesses who are not paying paid sick leave and who need to," Licata says. To that end, he wants to create a labor standards office to proactively enforce wage and labor laws, instead of relying on a spotty complaint-driven system.
"And now we hear with the minimum wage that businesses cannot survive," Licata says, when I asked him whether he sees any parallels between opposition to paid sick leave and to raising wages. "I notice that it's a repeated argument that they all focus on...they're repeatedly using the statistic that we cannot tolerate a sudden 60% increase."
Restaurateur Ethan Stowell, for example, is part of the big-business-backed OneSeattle coalition that opposes a swift bump in minimum wages to $15 (and supports so-called tip credit). In 2011, he warned about paid sick leave: "The hardest thing in the world is to run a small restaurant...ultimately, I hate to say it, I think some people will go out of business."
But, according to Romich, there's no evidence that has happened. After the ordinance went into effect, Stowell's restaurant industry peer Tom Douglas admitted paid sick leave is "costing about one-third of what his company initially projected for the 650 eligible employees at his restaurants," and he simply made adjustments to shift-swapping practices. Now, Douglas is claiming, "If $15 NOW has its way without any consideration for tip enhanced wages, fine dining restaurant prices would immediately jump 20%. That is a $5 million+ direct price hike annually on our menus and consequently to our customers."
"They [opponents of Kshama Sawant] have set up a straw man," Licata says. "It's not going to be doom and gloom."