An abstract proposal to require paid sick leave was fleshed out in detail today at City Hall, thereby assuaging the fears of some restaurant owners who were opposed to the measure last month on the grounds it would cost them too much money. Seattle City Council members and the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce said the measure would benefit the 190,000 Seattle workers who currently work without paid sick leave. And many business owners say they can support the measure—because they helped draft it.

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Tasha Westbaker rallies for paid sick days.
  • Single mother Tasha Westbaker rallies for paid sick days.
“This is the first time in the nation that proponents [of paid sick leave] sat down with small businesses and addressed their concerns prior to introducing legislation,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute at a press conference at City Hall this morning. The proposal is currently supported by more than 70 local organizations. “It’s reason to celebrate.”

The collaboration went a long way towards convincing small business owners like Five-Point Café owner Dave Meinert and Linda Derschang, owner of Linda’s Tavern. “The previous proposal didn’t recognize shift trading, this one works it in,” explains Meinert. “It also gives new businesses a two-year window to become profitable [before implementing a paid sick leave system]. And it’s fairer to businesses in calculating sick leave for part time workers.”

This is the proposal: Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be required to offer full-time employees up to five sick days a year, businesses with less than 250 employees would offer employees up to seven days, and businesses with over 250 employees would offer up to nine days annually. Furthermore, the leave could be used to care for a family member, if a public health emergency arises (like the swine flu epidemic). Sick days could even used to deal with domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.

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And while the legislation allows small businesses to encourage shift swapping instead of taking paid sick days, owners must still offer sick days to all employees. “The Office of Civil Rights will be monitoring and disciplining this,” said Watkins.

The legislation would cover roughly 40 percent of Seattle’s workforce that currently has no paid sick leave. “We need to keep disease out of our stores and out of our schools,” said Tasha Westbaker, a single mother of three and grocery store employee who says she’s worked sick many times. “It’s a choice between that or losing a day’s worth of pay—or twenty percent of my income for the week. And that means my family is going without. What a terrible choice to have to make.”

Council members Nick Licata, Sally Clark, and Jean Godden were on hand to support the proposal, as was Mayor Mike McGinn. The Seattle City Council is widely expected to pass the proposal this summer. Once passed, it would give businesses a grace period between 180 days and two years to implement a paid sick day system.