Working Families Task Force co-chair Anne Ladky is shaking off an 11-page minority report from two of the city’s biggest business groups ahead of a revamped paid sick leave ordinance expected to be introduced at next week’s full City Council meeting. Ladky, the executive director of Women Employed, says now that the task force recommendations are public, she can take off her co-chair hat and “vigorously advocate” for the ordinance’s passage.
Ladkey said she wasn’t surprised about the blowback from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, which drafted the memo denouncing the task force recommendations. But Ladky claims the media narrative that has emerged–business owners versus advocates–is misplaced. “I think it would be a mistake to conflate that official view of those organizations with the views of all their members. What we learned in the task force is there a wide range of views among employers. They’re not universally opposed.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), co-chair of the task force, points to the Illinois Restaurant Association’s (IRA) neutral position on the recommendations as proof. IRA President Sam Toia sat on the task force, and the food service industry is the biggest private sector employer in the state.
IRMA and the Chamber, both task force participants, argue that coupled with Chicago’s $13 minimum wage, plastic bag ban, upcoming $588 million property tax levy (that is likely to be raised again), Cook County’s nationwide high sales tax, Affordable Care Act requirements, and recent tobacco tax hikes, paid sick leave mandates would be unduly burdensome on local businesses. The groups say labor policy shouldn’t be considered within a vacuum. Rather than reduce turnover and save on healthcare costs, paid sick leave will increase prices, decrease benefits, reduce employee hours, limit expansion, and lead to positions being cut, the business groups argue.
Pawar dismisses IRMA and Chamber claims, and says the implementation cost (which the task force estimates is a 0.7%-1.5% increase in labor costs) is minimal. “Quite frankly, I don’t understand what the disdain for working people is… at the end of the day it’s good for business because it’s good for people,” he told Aldertrack.
Ladky was well aware of both groups’ concerns, and said the report took pains to lay them out, but echoed Pawar. “It’s not a cost anywhere even remotely like the minimum wage.” Many employers the task force spoke to were concerned with making their business fairer for workers and attractive to new hires. “It’s not as if no employers want to do it, or advocates are always going to be fighting for the maximum. I think what our process showed is lots of employers want to do right by their employees.”
The recommendations are more conservative than the ordinance first pitched in 2014, and are the result of a business and labor consensus, Ladky says.
Employees will have to work 40 hours to accrue one hour of sick leave (up from 30 in the original paid sick leave ordinance), new hires will have to wait 120 to 180 days to utilize a paid sick day (up from 90 days), and the total number of sick days available would be capped at five, down from nine.
But some in labor, like UFCW Local 881’s political director Zach Koutsky, are happy to see a bigger paid sick leave umbrella that includes all private sector workers. He says ultimately, this version is more amenable to passage than the 2014 ordinance, and he doesn’t want to wait another year for this chance to come around again.
Members of the Earned Sick Time Chicago coalition, which includes AFSCME Council 31, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, UNITE HERE Local 1, UFCW Local 881, and Ladky’s organization, Women Employed, are in talks with each other, aldermen, and the Emanuel administration. Pawar said he expects Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who convened the task force, to be “very involved” with passage.
“This has gotten [our coalition] farther and with more buy-in than the 2014 bill ever had. It spurred a re-engagement at the state and county level,” Koutsky told Aldertrack.
Ald. Pawar said the proposals are more conservative than even he would have liked, but his job was to reach consensus. “I think we came up with a very balanced, and a more pro-business proposal [than the first ordinance]. My own personal politics would lean further to the left on this.”
He says Chicago’s approach, in some ways, is innovative, compared to recent advances in sick leave in New York and San Francisco. Starting on the expected effective date of the ordinance, July 1st, existing employees will have access to paid sick days immediately. Other cities have a four to six month waiting period. “We also have an FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) portion,” where employees can roll over a certain amount of accrued paid sick time to be used to take care of a newborn or sick parent.
“Why should working people have to win the good boss lotto to have basic protections?” Ladky told Aldertrack, saying paid sick leave should be a standard like public safety and child labor laws. If it can’t be done on the federal or state level, it should start in Chicago. “Union membership has declined… and with so much of our workforce being hourly, times have changed. Our employment standards have to change with the times.”
The across-the-board standards the task force recommended might also make enforcement easier. Pawar says the enforcement portion of the ordinance is being drafted.
Leaders from the Chicagoland Chamber and IRMA were both in Springfield and did not respond to inquiries by publication.