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Minneapolis set to become first city in Minnesota to require paid sick leave

The law won’t gain final passage until May 27, but Minneapolis City Council members left little doubt Thursday that the ordinance will be approved. 

From left to right: Jose Gallardo, organizer with AFSCME Council 5; Brian Elliott, executive director of SEIU Minnesota Council; Ron Harris, staff member at NOC; Stephanie Gasca, staffer at CTUL (hidden); and Danny Schwartzman, co-owner of Common Roots Coffee.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The Minneapolis City Council has set up a series of hearings and meetings this month that will end with a May 27 vote on whether to adopt a mandatory paid leave ordinance for private and nonprofit employees who work in Minneapolis.

But during a staff briefing on the proposed ordinance Thursday, council members left little doubt of the outcome. Minneapolis is poised to become the first city in the state to require paid sick leave.

“The level of details of the questions we’re asking today I think indicates the high level of consensus that we have on the big directions of this policy,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who credited the work of the city’s Workplace Partnership Group, a 15-member committee that met from December through March to study the issue.

A public hearing on the proposal has been set for May 18 at 3 p.m. in council chambers. That will be followed by a meeting at noon on May 26 to consider, amend and vote on an ordinance. The regular council will consider final passage on May 27 at 9:30 a.m.

How it would work

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Council President Barbara Johnson, mostly reflects the recommendation of the workplace group, which included appointees from business, labor, employer groups and workers. If adopted in current form, the law would take effect on July 1, 2017.

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Workplace Partnership Group member Ron Harris said Thursday morning the final report was itself a compromise, taking into account concerns raised by businesses and other during a series of “listening sessions” throughout the city.

“This is not the Cadillac version that we need to whittle down from,” Harris said. “It’s a pretty accurate reflection of the process that we worked really really hard on.”

Estimates are that 42 percent of those who work in the city currently lack paid leave, with many of those employees being women and people of color working in lower income jobs.

In most cases under the proposed ordinance, employees in workplaces with six or more workers would be allowed to accumulate one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, topping out at 48 hours of accrual each year. The workers could rollover unused sick leave from one year to the next until they accumulate 80 hours. That leave could be taken when the worker or the worker’s family members are sick; for physical and mental illnesses or injuries; and for medical appointments. In cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, time could be taken for treatment, counseling, relocation or legal proceedings.

An employer would not have to be based in Minneapolis to be subject to the ordinance, nor does the law only cover workers who have a regular workplace in the city. A repair person who is dispatched from a location outside the city, for example, would accumulate paid leave for each hour worked within the city, as long as he or she works at least 80 hours a year within the city boundaries.

The ordinance wouldn’t allow employers to make an employee’s use of the leave conditional on the working finding a replacement for themselves, or on the employee arranging to trade shifts with another worker. But it would allow employers to require documentation for use of three consecutive leave days.

Employers who already offer paid leave in excess of what is required under the ordinance would not have to offer additional days. Policies that exceed the minimum standards in the ordinance would be considered to be in compliance.

The city’s civil rights department would enforce the ordinance and handle complaints, which could be brought by a worker or anyone else. Employers would be required to maintain employment records for three years and would be deemed to be in violation of the ordinance for refusing to make those records available to investigators.

First offenses in the first year of implementation, from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, would not carry financial penalties other than reinstatement of improperly withheld leave pay. Second offenses in the first year — as well as any offenses in the second and subsequent years — could result in fines and penalties.

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Who isn’t covered?

Many of the questions posed by council members Thursday were about the exemptions in the proposed ordinance. City workers — including the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employees — would be covered. But the city’s attorneys said Minneapolis does not have the authority to regulate employees of other federal, state and local governments who work in the city. 

Also not included would be independent contractors, construction workers covered by state prevailing wage and benefit laws, and health care workers who are considered “casual” employees: those without regular employment status but who work when and if they are needed.

The proposed ordinance won support from groups such as Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Take Action Minnesota and the SEIU Minnesota. Continuing to oppose are some business organizations, including the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Steve Cramer, president of the downtown council, was the sole no vote on the work group, and he submitted a minority report suggesting a voluntary program “based on building a community partnership, an approach that encourages and lifts employers up in an effort to expand worker access to sick and safe time.”

“In the weeks ahead, we hope our elected leaders will keep an open mind as they hear input on this important topic,” he said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.

Since March, a task force created by the City of St. Paul has also been studying the issue. The group is set to submit a report to St. Paul’s human right commission by May 17.

Changes from workplace group report

There was one change from the recommendation that was noted by Workplace Partnership Group members. The panel had proposed that the mandatory nature of any ordinance not apply to what it termed “micro employers” — those with three or fewer workers. City staff, however, raised the threshold for covered workplaces to those with six or more workers and did not include protections for workers at smaller employers who take unpaid leave when sick.

“If that’s what the city council ends up deciding, that’s what we’ll go with, but also work for ways to cover all workers in the future,” said work group member Molly Glasgow, who is also president of  Metro Independent Business Association.

The work group had also suggested a two-tiered phase-in of the ordinance with employers with 24 or fewer workers having six months before they would be fully covered. But city staff has recommended a 12-month phase in for all employers, regardless of size.

The work group had also suggested that city enforcers be able to threaten a business’ licenses for continued failure to follow the ordinance. City staff, however, proposed requiring recalcitrant employers to pay back pay plus fines and penalties.

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Paid leave was included in Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’ state of the city speech in April of 2015 and was bundled with other issues as her Working Families Agenda. Hodges and the council set aside the most controversial proposal of the agenda: a requirement that employers provide workers with adequate notice of work schedules and compensate those employees when schedules are altered. The sick leave segment was handed off to the work group to see if it could come up with a proposal that was acceptable to business and labor, employers and employees. While the final report didn’t completely get there, it did respond to some business concerns.

In a press statement Thursday, Hodges pledged to continue working with the business community as part of her Business Made Simple initiative, but she also said she supports the ordinance as presented to the council.

“We are on the verge of enacting a policy that will improve the public health for everyone and provide greater opportunity for low-income families,” Hodges said, adding that “listening and collaborating has gotten us there.”