Minneapolis Workers Win Paid Sick Leave in Momentous Vote

Workers in Minneapolis had a momentous win Friday as the city became the first in the midwest to pass a paid sick leave ordinance. This comes after a year of organizing from numerous organizations, including Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and the Main Street Alliance, in a worker-led campaign.

“Today’s vote is a tremendous [victory] for low-wage workers of color who fought for, demanded, and won better workplace protections. Addressing economic inequality is crucial to solving Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities. Earned sick and safe time for Minneapolis workers is an important step in the right direction,” said Anthony Newby, Executive Director of NOC, via press release.

The ordinance was passed 13-0 by the Minneapolis City Council, in front of a standing-room only crowd, and has the strong support of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges who proposed paid sick leave in 2015 as part of her Working Families Agenda.

“Minneapolis has recognized that no one should have to choose between getting well and getting paid. This is a landmark day for Minneapolis” said Hodges.

Other groups lobbying for the ordinance included CTUL, SEIU, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, and TakeAction Minnesota .

Who gets sick pay

Video above: Vote and celebration in the Minneapolis City Council Chambers
Video below: Vote and reaction
Video at bottom: Rally for safe and sick time on May 18, 2016

The new ordinance impacts businesses with 6 or more employees who work 80 hours or more a year in Minneapolis. 1 hour of paid sick leave is accrued for every 30 hours worked, which can also be carried over from year-to-year. Workers may use this sick and safe time for a personal or family emergency or due to weather conditions and they must be paid at the same rate as if they had worked those hours.

The new ordinance goes into effect July 17th. Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) had authored a bill, HF 549, during this last biennium which would have made paid sick leave state law, but the bill was held up in committee. According to a press release from Lesch’s office, he hopes that paid sick leave can become priority in the next legislative session.

Activists push for sick and safe time
Video and text by Bill Sorem

Earlier this month an enthusiastic group rallied in front of Minneapolis City Hall and then went inside to testify at the Council hearing on Sick and Safe Time. The May 18 rally was organized by NOC (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change), CTUL, SEIU, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, TakeAction Minnesota and Main Street Alliance of Minnesota.

The hearing came after a year-long campaign and months of listening sessions from the Workplace Partnership Group, a task force comprised of workers and representatives from small and large businesses. The task force heard from hundreds of Minneapolis workers, business owners and residents in their process of crafting a policy recommendation. The Partnership voted 13-1 to bring their policy recommendation to the Council, who used it as the basis for the current proposal.

Nearly 42% of workers in Minneapolis lack access to paid sick time, and many workers who lack sick time shared their stories Wednesday afternoon. Erika Sanchez, a mom and leukemia patient, told a powerful story of struggling to take care of her illness and children while going to school and working night shifts at a Holiday gas station. “If I had had earned sick time,” she said, “I would have been able to take care of myself.”

“My daughter was born with a terminal lung disease,” said Rosheeda Credit, a personal care assistant and leader with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “When I had to take time off to take care of my baby, I was fired from my job and not able to support my family. So my family got evicted from our place and we had to stay in a shelter. I’m having trouble finding another job in the health field, because I have this problem with my daughter. When I take time off, I won’t get paid for it. Elderly people, young people, everyone needs earned sick and safe time.”

There appears to be broad support for the principle, but there is some disagreement on the details. Dan McElroy, President of Hospitality Minnesota, was the 18th to testify. McElroy said, “Let me make clear: the Hospitality Industry agrees with the goals of not forcing employees to work sick or when they feel threatened. However, the restaurant industry is not like a typical business. Our members are open over a hundred hours a week, and some are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. We already utilize technology to allow employees to easily trade, pick up or reschedule shifts to ensure flexibility for all types of circumstances including being sick.” There is also concern about employees suing employers.

The sick and safe time proposal was originally bundled with a $15 minimum wage. In hindsight, the activist groups recognize this as a mistake.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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