Correction: Yesterday’s preview of today’s Workforce Committee meeting incorrectly stated the effective date of the paid sick leave provisions. The correct date is July 1, 2017.

An ordinance mandating Chicago employers provide five days of paid sick leave to employees passed the Committee on Workforce Development and Audit without much of a fuss yesterday, though sources say a small undercurrent of backroom dealing was still swirling during the otherwise uneventful hearing.

Attendance: Chairman Pat O’Connor (40), Ald. Sophia King (4), Ald. Anthony Beale (9), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), Ald. Toni Foulkes (16), Ald. Willie Cochran (20), Ald. Danny Solis (25), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30), Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), Ald. Michele Smith (43), Ald. Tom Tunney (44), Ald. John Arena (45), Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), Ald. Deb Silverstein (50)

Proponents testifying in favor of the ordinance described it as hard fought, compromise bill crafted over nearly three years of negotiations with the city, labor groups, and businesses. But just before the hearing, committee members got wind that 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson wanted a substitute introduced regarding collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), based on concerns from local manufacturing companies. Ald. Ed Burke (14) was said to be crafting and introducing that substitute, sources close to negotiations said, in part because it would also benefit local airlines impacted by the new rules. But neither made an appearance at yesterday’s meeting.

Current collective bargaining arrangements won’t be impacted by the new rules until they expire, proponents said. The new rules would serve as a baseline requirement in future renegotiations. Construction jobs are treated differently. Construction employers would be able to opt out of providing paid sick days during renegotiations. In a nod to Ald. Thompson’s concerns, committee chair Pat O’Connor (40) asked why there was a carve-out.

Bridget Early of the Chicago Federation of Labor replied that it was because earned sick time doesn’t accrue for construction workers, who often work seasonally, the same way it would for a retail or low-wage workers. “Through this ordinance, when [construction] CBAs expire, they are not mandated to implement earned sick time, that is because the nature of their contracts vary by affiliate, by trade, what have you.”

Ald. O’Connor encouraged Early and UFCW Local 881’s Zach Koutsky to make sure to explain the construction carve-out and the impact on future CBAs to concerned aldermen.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) were also lobbying the Mayor’s office for changes to the ordinance the evening before the vote. IRMA’s Tanya Triche testified she wanted to simplify paid sick leave provisions for small employers “who have to administer a complicated scheme of paid sick leave that entails multiple benefit start dates, accrual and separately banked and tracked hours to correspond with [family and medical leave].”

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), a lead sponsor of the odinance, said the attempt was essentially a Hail Mary pass, since both the Chamber and IRMA had been part of the task force that helped draft recommendations. “I think negotiating an ordinance that has already been negotiated, especially when you’re at the table for the last year, I think is a little disingenuous,” he said, calling their complaints unfounded. “I think people like to catastrophize. New York’s doing a good job, businesses aren’t fleeing San Francisco, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, L.A. That’s not to say there won’t be complications. That’s why we have the rule making process.”

As a consolation, of sorts, both business groups will be included in the rule making process, which will take place over the next year. The effective date of the ordinance is July 1, 2017.

Only one alderman voiced reservations. Local business owner Ald. Tom Tunney(44) said while “a world class city needs a world class environment for employees,” he agreed with Triche that small businesses need to be educated on how to implement changes, and that the cost of labor and complying with mandates was growing every year. He estimated labor costs at his own business, Lakeview’s Ann Sather restaurants, have grown from roughly 33% to 43% in recent years.  

“Companies get sick too. We’ve got an ailing small business climate in the city of Chicago,” he said. “This building needs to do a better job on listening to employers and their needs and how we can encourage businesses to open up in all areas of the city.”

Tunney was not present for the final vote. Other aldermen who typically raise concerns on behalf of the business community, Ald. Michele Smith (43) and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) also attended the meeting, but did not voice opposition.

Despite opposition from the business community leading up to today’s hearing, even the audience was subdued. The only applause came after testimony from Matt Brandon of SEIU Local 73. “I think it’s a shame when we sit here and we have business come in here and talk about plastic bags and cigarettes when we’re talking about the lives of workers who need to be taken care of,” he said, referring to business concerns about recent city mandates taxing tobacco products and requiring stores to provide recyclable plastic bags. “Of course there are costs associated with this type of ordinance, but there are also more serious costs associated with our people when they have to take off sick, go to an emergency room, and can’t afford it. Those costs are passed on to all of us.”

Most of the rest of the day’s testimony was overwhelmingly positive, describing the ordinance as an important baseline that would protect workers and benefit employers in the long run. After about an hour of testimony, Chairman O’Connor said the remaining pink slips were all in support of the ordinance, and asked if anyone in the audience objected to wrapping things up. With no objection, he called for a voice vote, and no one spoke up to oppose. Audience members, many in ARISE Chicago t-shirts, clapped and hugged.

“We feel real good about today,” UFCW’s Koutsky said after the vote. “For it to pass with that little rancor is pretty telling.”

Shelly Ruzicka from ARISE Chicago, a member of the coalition supporting the ordinance, said the focus will now be on informing employees about the new paid sick leave rules, and of the next minimum wage hike raising the city’s rate to $10.50 an hour. That hike kicks in July 1. “We need to make sure workers know their rights,” she said, explaining her organization was fielding calls about minimum wage non-compliance. “I think our office is maybe getting more complaints than [the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection]… We’re actually partnering with the city to see what else they can do to do it better. We think the city needs more resources in order to enforce the laws that they’ve passed.”