A local human resources association and other unnamed, frowny-faced business interests have formed a coalition to block new, progressive city legislation that would mandate that all Seattle businesses offer their employees paid sick leave. Tonight at 5:30 p.m.,
masked members will be present to speak against the legislation at a public hearing at City Hall.
Citing a recent study produced by the
conservative earnestly non-partisan Washington Policy Center, the so-called Reasonable Employment and Legislation Coalition (or REAL Coalition) claims that the proposed legislation would cost Seattle businesses $100 million a year*, would cripple Seattle's competitiveness with Bellevue and neighboring cities, and ultimately cause "a majority" of businesses leave Seattle, according to coalition spokesman David Black.
Instead of passing the legislation, Black calls on city council members to commission an "independent economic impact study before deciding the issue" in a July 5 press release (.pdf). Black says he's "not at liberty to say" who's joined the coalition, which is spearheaded by the Society of Human Resources Management.
"A majority of businesses are telling me that they're considering moving out of the city [if this legislation passes]," says Black when reached by phone today. He adds that "I think it's possible" downtown could become a ghost town.
But Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute—which has helped craft the legislation with city officials and small business owners—says that the ghost town claim, among others, is an empty threat meant to generate hysteria.
*The WPC study actually estimates the legislation could collectively cost Seattle business owners between $30 and $90 million annually.
"The majority of businesses, anchoring our downtown business district already provide paid sick leave for their workers," says Watkins. "That's not going to change." She admits that "there will be some cost to businesses" but context is key.
Take the REAL Coalition's inflated claim* that it will cost businesses $100 million annually. According to the most recent data taken from the 2007 Economic Census, "Seattle payrolls generate $13 billion a year," Watkins explains. "Gross receipts for businesses—the total operating costs for businesses—are in the neighborhood of $52 billion. $100 million? That's a drop in the bucket. It's a fraction of a percentage."
Anecdotally, Molly Moon's ice cream shop owner Molly Neitzel—who voluntarily offers paid sick leave to her employees—reports that, “Less than 10 total hours have been used over three months by a staff of 48 employees," costing her a little more than $100.
Put another way: "There's absolutely no evidence that there's a negative impact on businesses," Watkins says. "What we have found is what’s good for their workers is good for the business. Morale is higher, productivity is higher."
Furthermore, calls for more studies is nothing but a transparent tactic aimed to kill the legislation. "There would never be a good time, a good day that would convince these people that it’s time to act," says Watkins. "I suspect the reason these people don’t want to be named is an ideological opposition to workers having any power. It's a hard place to argue from. Nobody wants to go on record as saying that people should be forced to go to work sick, or families should be punished for getting sick. No one wants to go on record saying that. They’d rather hide behind these 'we need more studies' slogans when, from what we've seen, the legislation is very popular with Seattle voters."