Monday, January 11th was one of those epic meetings where the community turns out and we don’t get home until midnight. Emotionally draining and physically exhausting, yet filled with community passion, input and participation. And it was Councilman Jon Snyder’s last Council meeting, as he is leaving to take a job with Governor Inslee as his Recreation and Economic Development Advisor. More to say about Jon below — I am going to miss him greatly.
I want to recap my thoughts on the sick and safe leave debate first, and then speak to a few other others we tackled on our agenda. City Council did pass a sick leave policy on a 6-1 vote that will become effective on January 1, 2017.
I truly want to thank everyone who has contacted me about the pros and cons of implementing a sick and safe leave policy in Spokane. Having a full house on Monday night with many people providing such heartfelt testimony on all sides of the issue shows how engaged our community is in the economic health and welfare of workers and families here in Spokane.
Since I was approached by community members over two years ago about the need for sick and safe leave, I have made it my mission to educate myself about the choices and challenges facing workers in Spokane, as well as the choices and challenges facing very small businesses.
I have reviewed city and state sick leave policies from across the country. I sat in on the task force meetings last May on this topic and listened to the feedback from this group. I helped facilitate a community forum last July. I have met personally with advocates of creating a minimum level of sick and safe leave and I have met with small businesses and listened to a group of 30 GSI business leaders, as well as debate and feedback from the Downtown Spokane Partnership board. I have also explored the need for victims of domestic violence to have paid leave to access medical, criminal justice and other services with our local YWCA.
I supported the Council taking action on a sick and safe leave policy. It’s clear to me that access to paid sick/safe leave provides much-needed opportunity in our community:
-Opportunity to prevent illness. Allowing workers to stay home when they are sick or family members are sick is strongly recommended by our public health officials and can help stop the spread of communicable diseases.
-Economic opportunity for those people who are disproportionately impacted in our community. The Spokane Regional Health District study and national studies on sick leave show us that low-income workers, part-time workers, minorities and women are the least likely to have access to leave. Female-dominated industries such as retail, services, child care tend are among the least likely to offer paid time off for illness or health care. Paid leave provides an opportunity and security for these workers, especially women, many whom are economically vulnerable in Spokane.
-Opportunity for victims of domestic violence to access services and not risk losing their jobs or economic stability or physical safety.
Passing a sick leave policy is a big deal for Spokane. I understand how important this policy is to Spokane – to my own next door neighbors in District 1. But it is also a big deal for businesses, especially small businesses and we can’t forget that there will be time and resources that small business will have to dedicate to meeting these new requirements.
I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with many people in my District and I’ve learned a lot about how family-run businesses operate. My goal has been to pass a policy that provides paid leave for workers and recognizes and balances the financial impact this policy will have on very small businesses in Spokane. I can think of three specific examples of very small, family-owned businesses that have been around for 20+ years in my District who live and employ workers in the City. One is a service company, one is a small grocery store and one is a childcare center. They are not large corporate entities – they are competing against national and multi-national corporate entities for our business (and the childcare business receives “state pay” for may of the children they care for, giving them little control over their income). All three of these businesses report to me that they laid off workers or cut hours or simply did not earn a profit during the economic downturn and they have not yet recovered. Any wages or profits (if they make a profit) circulate in our local economy. The impact of business regulations, whether state, local or federal, is felt hardest by very small businesses, some of which are start-ups that will grow and add more jobs in the community over the years and increase their payroll and ability to provide more benefits to employees.
The ordinance we considered on Monday night would have provided a floor of 3 days of earned sick and safe leave for every employee in Spokane. Councilmember Jon Snyder made a motion to increase the number of paid days an employee can earn to 5. Councilmembers Stratton, Mumm, Fagan and I voted no on this motion. I’m very concerned about the financial and economic impact of requiring 5 days for very small businesses right out of the gate which is why I supported Councilwoman Stratton’s motion to allow up to 5 days only for businesses with 10 or more employees (excluding owners and family members). I also supported a motion by Councilwoman Stratton to give an extra year for new businesses to comply with this policy in acknowledgement of the resources that start-up companies have to invest just to get started. Both these motions passed. The ordinance excludes the construction industry for a variety of reasons, but primarily because tradespeople can work for multiple employers within a year, making it difficult to earn and track hours and transfer these from employer to employer.
I did get feedback from the business community that perhaps businesses with less then 10 employees should be exempted. I toyed with this idea with other Councilmembers, but ultimately I did not think very small businesses should be exempt. Domestic violence victims need access to paid time off no matter the size of company they work for. Families should be able to earn some paid hours to access health care no matter the size of business they work for. That’s why I supported up to 3 days for businesses under 10 and 5 days for businesses over 10. I still have concerns that 5 days will be challenging for businesses over 10, but the data shows that here in Spokane and nation-wide, employees use around 3 days on average of sick time. And, part-time workers (which are covered under this policy) would earn less than 5 paid sick hours over the course of year. We will need to do a very thorough analysis of the impact of this policy at the end of 2017 to determine what kind of changes we may want to make in the future.
A few other quick notes about the policy — This policy allows shift swapping (employees exchanging shifts in a pay period — no sick time would need to be paid). It allows employees to “pre-load” the days at the beginning of the year if they don’t want to track employee hours. If companies already offer 3 or 5+ PTO or vacation leave days, as long as these days can be used for sick time for an employee or family member, there is no requirement to offer more days.
I know there will be a lot of questions about the new policy and I will do my best to ensure the City has a robust public and business outreach plan so that everyone feels comfortable and confident about implementing the policy by 2017.
The Council also passed a resolution (6-1) urging the STA Board to place a measure on the ballot in November 2016 asking voters to increase sales tax to fund the Moving Forward Program, which includes many new transit projects across the County.
Council declined to take action on placing an initiative related to policing and immigration on the ballot. I’m going to link to the Spokesman article for more info.
Finally, I want to thank Jon Snyder for his incredible service to the City of Spokane. He has been an amazing advocate for traffic calming, multi-modal transportation, investing in our trails and improving public health. I can’t name all the pieces of legislation with his name on them. I am going to miss his passion, his prodding, his ability to convince Councilmembers on all variety of issues. I know it is hard for him to leave the City, but I can’t imagine he won’t be back some year soon. Best of luck to one of the most effective (and stubborn!) Councilmembers I have worked with!