Chicago employers large and small — with the exception of construction companies — will be required to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days each year under a landmark ordinance approved Wednesday over the strenuous objections of business groups.
The vote was 48 to 0 to the cheers of restaurant employees and other minimum-wage workers who packed the City Council chamber for the historic vote.
“It’s time to give 460,000 human beings, our neighbors, just a baseline of decency,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the sick leave mandate a “complement” to his pre-election plan to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019.
“Some people want to describe it as anti-business. I consider it a pro-family policy. It’s not something you get. It’s something you earn based on the hours you work and the time you put in,” Emanuel said.
“Helping parents be good workers and good parents is never a bad policy. Not for a city and not for a company.”
But, he warned, “Chicago cannot be totally an island. We’ve done right on the minimum wage. Everybody declared it was gonna be the end of the world as we know it [and it didn’t happen]. But at a certain point, there will be a tipping…It is my fervent hope that the state of Illinois catches up.”
Since 2006, five states including California and 24 cities including New York, Seattle and Minneapolis have enacted laws on paid sick time. Chicago is the 25th city.
For roughly 460,000 of the city’s 1.1 million private-sector workers, that means no longer having to drag your flu-ridden body to work or forfeit a day’s pay to stay home with a sick child or elderly parent.
Business leaders have likened it to death by a thousand cuts. They argue that it’s not any one government mandate that’s so damaging, but the cumulative effect of a parade of taxes and regulations.
“It’s really been relentless. . . . This is less about whether people deserve paid sick leave and more about how much more existing businesses can take,” Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, has said.
The ordinance allows private-sector employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. A maximum of 40 hours, about five days, can accrue in a 12-month period. Up to 20 hours, or 2 ½ days, could carry over to the next year.
Workers would be eligible to use paid sick days after being with a company for six months. Employees who don’t stick with jobs for long — such as students working a summer job — would not receive the benefit.
Also on Wednesday, the City Council changed Chicago’s Human Rights Ordinance in a way that will allow transgender people to use the public washroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
“The 49 in Orlando were murdered because of internalized homophobia, because of internalized Islamophobia, because of the hatred that is so rampant in this society,” said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), one of five openly gay aldermen.
“When we as legislators legislate hate, we are paving the way for the hatred that drives that violence. I ask that my colleagues join me in supporting this ordinance today because we can legislate love. We can show that, as a city, we will not discriminate against our trans sisters and brothers. That we will allow equality to reign supreme when it comes to access to public accommodations.”
Five aldermen voted “no.” They are Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); David Moore (17th); Willie Cochran (20th); Nick Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41th).
During a committee meeting earlier this month that featured emotional testimony from ostracized transgender Chicagoans, Sposato worried aloud about what he called the “knucklehead effect.” That is, a man who claims to be transgender just to gain access to a women’s washroom.
“Some ladies are saying some guy is coming in the bathroom. I’m not saying he’s doing anything. He’s just in there. They’re just uncomfortable that guys are coming in the bathroom. You send a squad there. What’s the deal? If they identify as a woman, you guys turn around and tell the lady there’s nothing we can do? What’s the CPD policy?” Sposato asked at the time.
Sposato was told the incident would be investigated, but it would not be an “automatic violation of law just because a male stepped into a female washroom or vice-versa” unless a crime had been committed.
When Thompson asked “what protections do we have” to prevent someone from falsely claiming they are transgender to gain access to public facilities, Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega did not pull any punches.
“You’re already showering next to people who are transgender and you don’t know it,” Noriega said.