The long-awaited recommendations of the Working Families Task Force (WFTF) were finally released Saturday, immediately drawing rebukes from a pair of business groups against proposed city-wide mandatory sick, family, and medical leave, and praise from labor groups. Most notable, the report recommends all employers provide five days of sick leave per year for full time employees, and omits specific recommendations on scheduling practices.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel quietly formed the WFTF in mid-June of 2015, co-chaired by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) and Anne Ladky, the executive director of Women Employed, and 24 other members, including eight current and former aldermen, five employers, four employee advocates, three business group representatives, and two state legislators. It was modeled after the Mayor’s Minimum Wage Working Group, and tasked with gathering information and issuing recommendations–but not drafting legislation–on things like paid sick leave for workers, protections for shift workers and pregnant employees, and expanding access to paid leave for new parents.
Ald. Pawar is already geared up to get an ordinance through City Council. After the release, Pawar tweeted “proud of the recommendations we made,” and “pro employee policy=pro business.” Labor group the Restaurant Opportunities Center tagged others like UFCW Local 881, Arise Chicago, Chicago Jobs with Justice, and the The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in a tweet: “Time to pass #EarnedSickTime in Chicago!!!”
The Dissenting Report
The WFTF report says 42 percent of private-sector workers in Chicago (about 460,000 people) don’t have access to paid sick days. Those workers are mostly low wage and “routinely confronted with difficult choices, such as going to work sick or foregoing a day’s compensation; which, for low-wage and part time workers, represents a significant – and often indispensable – portion of their income.” Leave proponents argue it reduces turnover, the spread of disease, and healthcare costs in the long run.
Though the group met regularly since mid-June, members stayed tight-lipped throughout the process about recommendations and when they might be released. The list of committee members was not even publicized until days after the task force first met. In addition to the full committee, there were three sub-committees that met regularly over the summer on paid earned sick time, fair scheduling, and family support, which included paid family leave.
The following are the task force’s recommendations on leave, in sum:
An employee that completes 80 hours of work within 120 days of employment should be eligible to accrue earned sick days from the employer.
Eligible employees should begin to accrue benefits from the commencement of employment, but should not be eligible to use earned sick leave until sometime ranging from 120-180 days after the commencement of employment.
Employees should earn one hour of paid sick leave per every 40 hours worked.
At minimum, employees should be able to earn and use up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, five full work days, with no differing tiers based on employer size.
Employees should, at minimum, be allowed to rollover up to 20 hours of unused sick days at the end of the year for use in the immediate following year.
Employees should be allowed to rollover, bank, and use at minimum up to 40 hours of unused sick days at the end of the year for future (but within a specified duration) FMLA-eligible uses, which include: childbirth and newborn care, care of a newly adopted child, care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition (spouse, child, or parent, but not in-law), or an employee’s serious health condition.
Employers should not be obligated to pay out any hours for accrued unused or banked sick leave.
Employers that offer employees equivalent paid sick time benefits through paid time off (PTO) policies should not be mandated to make adjustments to their policies.
According to WFTF’s estimates, the cost of offering leave would add 0.7 to 1.5 percent in labor costs for most employers.
Significant chunks of the report lay out various concerns about cost and implementation from task force members, and stakeholders who chimed in during 14 different focus groups. The report’s authors concede, “on certain issues, the Task Force could not reach a uniformly shared consensus.”
That became apparent Saturday, when the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerceand the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) released a point-by-point dissent against the recommendations. Both groups had representation on the task force: Theresa Mintle, president and CEO of the Chamber, and Tanya Triche, general counsel for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, were members.
The Illinois Restaurant Association did not sign on to the dissent. Sam Toia, the group’s president is a member of WFTF. His members and their employees could see a major shakeup should a paid sick ordinance pass: in Chicago, the report says, between 70-80% of employees in service sector occupations (including food preparation and service) do not have access to paid sick days. Toia is also an Emanuel appointee to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
The Chamber and IRMA argue the city has been trying to right its fiscal ship on the backs of businesses. The two groups cite the $13 minimum wage that will take full effect in 2019, the plastic bag ban, the upcoming $588 million property tax hike (that could be soon raised again), Cook County’s sales tax hike, Affordable Care Act requirements, and the recent tobacco tax increases–all which kicked in or passed within the last 14 months–as unduly burdensome on local business. The dissent also disputes on some of the biggest arguments in favor of paid sick leave: that it ultimately saves businesses money by reducing turnover and healthcare costs, and preventing the spread of disease, calling the claims “weak at best.”
“One of the most effective ways supported by the Chicagoland Chamber and IRMA to increase employee wages and benefits and assist the unemployed is a focus on workforce development and employee skills training. Instead of setting the floor with ill-conceived labor policies, focusing and investing in training workers and the unemployed to compete for the higher paying jobs of today and the future is the single best way to achieve the goals of this task force,” the dissent says.
But it seems public opinion and the will of aldermen and the Mayor might be working against the two groups. 82 percent of Chicagoans said they’d be in favor of a policy requiring employers to provide paid leave for illness and emergencies in response a referendum question on the 2015 municipal ballot. And more than half the council co-sponsored an earned sick time ordinance in 2014. The ordinance failed to come to a vote in the Committee on Workforce Development and Audit and died at the start of the 2015 session.
Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1) the lead sponsor of the 2014 ordinance, wrote on Facebook yesterday: “Currently, over 200k workers can’t earn a sick day off from work and it’s about time we change that! I’m committed to passing this ordinance in City Council as soon as possible.”
Other cities have set precedent on sick leave as well, including Jersey City, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.
The recommendations came just after the state of New York passed a budget that included a $15 minimum wage hike plan and up to 12 weeks paid leave for state residents starting in 2018. The City of New York has had paid sick leave rules since June 2014. Hillary Clinton’s campaign platform includes a promise of up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and a two-thirds wage replacement rate for workers. Bernie Sanders has also campaigned for 12 weeks of leave, but the two differ on funding.