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Minneapolis City Council puts off paid sick leave until 2016

The proposal will give a new task force of employers, unions, workers and trade associations time to study to proposal and answer questions.

A coalition of groups backing the Working Families Agenda, #MPLSWorks, was not happy about the new delay, calling it “incredibly frustrating.”
MinnPost file photo by Peter Callaghan

The last piece of an ambitious agenda of worker protections advocated by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and city council leaders — paid sick leave — will take a more-deliberate path than first predicted.

Rather than adopt a measure by the end of the year that would require employers to let workers accumulate paid time off, the council will now wait until spring to consider an ordinance. That will give a new task force of employers, unions, workers and trade associations time to study the proposal and answer questions.

And a Nov. 4 public hearing on what has been called the Working Families Agenda has been cancelled.

Council Member Andrew Johnson, a supporter of paid sick leave, is co-sponsoring the new approach, along with Council President Barbara Johnson. Andrew Johnson said the original timeline was not going to provide enough time to work on the issue. The hearing, for example, was just two weeks away and there was still no ordinance language to consider.

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“I think it is a positive because we’re seeing some consensus building around paid sick leave,” Andrew Johnson said. Working on the details is important because they council doesn’t want to include language that has unintended consequences. He said it should not be interpreted as the council “kicking the can down the road.”

“We need to talk them through and take time to see the concerns and what makes sense,” he said.

Hodges and council supporters of the working families agenda had already pulled another item off the table — a so-called fair scheduling ordinance that would have required employers to give advance notice of work schedules and pay workers extra when shifts were added or altered after that posting. Opposition from both big business groups and small business owners was more-intense than expected.

Hodges said she still supports fair scheduling and hopes to return to the issue next year.

The council voted unanimously to create the work group, but first defeated a motion specifying that seven members would be from workers and seven from business, with a health care expert being the 15th. Another amendment — to have co-chairs, with one each from business and worker groups — also was defeated.

As proposed by the sponsors, the Workplace Regulations Partnership will have 15 members, with three appointed by Hodges, two by Barbara Johnson and the rest by the council. The group must include representatives of workers (including low-wage workers), organized labor, employers (including large employers, small employers and immigrant-owned businesses), as well as from business groups and associations.

The resolution directs the group to “engage the community in the development of its recommended policy proposals.” It is to report to the council no later than Feb. 24, 2016.

Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden, who has been one of the prime sponsors of the Working Families Agenda, said she agreed with the concept of the work group but wasn’t sure about some details. For example, she said reporting back to the council in late February might be longer than she would like.

But the idea of putting people from all sides of the issue together is a good idea, and she said she was “excited” that the council president is engaging so directly in the issue.

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“In some ways I like the concept a lot,” she said of the work group, adding that it could be a model for how to work on issues in the future.

In a prepared statement, Hodges said: “I support moving forward with a strong engagement process that includes all voices regarding earned sick and safe time for workers. My goal continues to be setting a strong basic standard for worker health in a way that strengthens the community for everyone, including businesses and their employees.”

The spring is also around when a study of the minimum wage should be finished. The council is expected to award a contract for a study of the economic impacts of a city-only minimum wage that would be higher than the state minimum wage.

Todd Klingel, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, applauded the council for the new approach.

“It’s thoughtful and prudent and it’s collective,” Klingel said. The chamber had been leading opposition to the fair scheduling act and has expressed skepticism about the sick leave proposal as well. But Klingel had already suggested some sort of committee to discuss the problems and look for possible solutions. He said the chamber would serve on the work group if asked.

“Had they done it this way from the start we would have saved a lot of turmoil,” he said. “But we learn as we go.”

Matt Perry, president of the Southwest Business Association, which is made up primarily of small businesses, also supported the new direction.

“With additional time and a more collaborative approach, we can incorporate more input creating a more sound approach,” Perry wrote. “We have been advocating for a workgroup that includes small business owners and their employees to review and advise on workplace regulations.”

A coalition of groups backing the Working Families Agenda, #MPLSWorks, was not nearly as happy about the new delay, calling it “incredibly frustrating.”

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“The decision to delay such a well-tested and popular solution makes no sense,” the group said. “We are committed to doubling down on our efforts to pass Earned Sick and Safe Time…”

The group also released results of a poll it commissioned. The Feldman Group polled 400 voters who had taken part in recent city elections and found that 91 percent favored paid sick leave policies, with 67 percent reporting they support paid sick leave “strongly.”

The original sponsors of the fair scheduling ordinance objected to a motion by Barbara Johnson to return the ordinance to the authors, a procedural motion that would have taken the issue off the council’s list of topics. Glidden said she intended to keep working on the issue despite the motion. And Council Member Lisa Bender gave a tearful defense of fair scheduling, citing stories from people who lost jobs because they couldn’t respond to late changes in scheduling and others who can’t support families with erratic work schedules.

Bender also objected to some comments from business groups that the proposed scheduling rules are a solution in search of a problem. That, Bender said, means they don’t believe those stories. But she cited some in the business community, both large and small, who said they were willing to work on the issue. 

“I intend to take them up on their offer,” Bender said. And Council Member Alondra Cano, speaking to supporters of the ordinances, advised that they keep it in mind in the next council election in 2017, so “the people sitting in these seats” reflect their political priorities.

The motion on the move to return the fair scheduling ordinance to the sponsors was approved on a 10-3 vote with Glidden, Bender and Cam Gordon voting no.