Minneapolis Small & Large Businesses Weigh In On Paid Sick & Safe Time

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Small business owners and representatives of larger corporations packed a pair of meetings on Thursday to influence how the Minneapolis City Council drafts an ordinance requiring businesses to provide employees paid safe and sick time.

At the Bryant Lake Bowl, small business owners were very concerned about the potential cost of the ordinance. Some of the owners said that their current employee plans were sufficient. Some of the speakers said there are tens of thousands of small businesses in Minneapolis. They range from “micro business” — often employing part-time employees — to larger companies with a sizable number of employees.

Hardware owner Jim Welna drew applause from the group when he proposed incentivizing rather than punishing businesses. He suggested the city could recognize employers that provide earned safe and sick time “as being the gold standard.”

The owner of Magers and Quinn bookstore pointed out that prices were on the books and they were already facing pressure from Amazon, so she was concerned about producing additional revenue to cover costs.

Four members of the Council attended this session: Elizabeth Glidden, Kevin Reich, Cam Gordon and Lisa Bender.

Later in the day, representatives of downtown businesses and a few employees packed the Minneapolis Downtown Council conference room, also to discuss the safe and sick time issue. Company representatives explained that many had sick and safe time benefits for employees because of long-standing traditions or, in some cases, union contracts.

They were concerned about the additional costs involved in reporting and in changing plans to conform to a single standard. And then there’s the question of how an ordinance would impact a company’s employees from an office in another city working for a short time in Minneapolis.

Downtown businesses conceded that service industry employees — which make up a large portion of the workforce — have no or very limited sick time coverage. One security guard reported he had one sick day a year and if he took another, he would be terminated. Many of these service jobs are low-paying and many are part-time.

When employees aren’t given paid sick time, businesses can also suffer. One woman said one sick employee of a food catering business caused a huge illness outbreak at a high school sports banquet.

Videos of listening sessions and council reaction

Video: 2 days a year sick leave after three years of employment & Councilman Jacob Frey’s reaction

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Lawanda Cobbin has worked for three years as an ambassador with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District “ I receive two sick days a year, which is not enough.”

The Minneapolis City Council set aside the sick and safe time issue last year because the ordinance language and details had not been firmed up. Several on the council—including Jacob Frey and Linea Palmisano who attended the downtown listening session — are generally supportive of the idea. Frey is for it if those details can be worked out.

“It’s an excellent concept. It would help a ton of people from a socio-economic perspective, from a racial justice perspective,” says Frey. “However we have to work out the kinks to ensure that we’re uplifting those who are struggling while simultaneously not infringing upon those who are doing things right. I think ultimately, I’m really hopeful we can get there.”

Video at top: interviews with small business owners
Video below: full listening session with small business owners.
Video at bottom: full listening session with downtown businesses and employees.

Click here for a shareable version of this video

Click here for a shareable version of this video

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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