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Aldermen renew push for paid sick leave

Three months before the Feb. 24 election, the City Council raised Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. The 44-to-5 vote helped Mayor Rahm Emanuel shed the “Mayor 1 percent label” and undercut the progressive base of his strongest challengers.

Champions of a stalled ordinance that would require Chicago employers large and small to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days a year can only hope they have the same political leverage, now that the mayoral election that could be Emanuel’s last is over.

On Tuesday, seven progressive aldermen and their allies in organized labor held a City Hall news conference to keep the heat on the mayor.

Following an 82 percent vote in a citywide referendum on the issue, Emanuel established a so-called Working Families Working Group to address the related issues of paid sick leave, protections for shift workers and pregnant employees and expanded access to paid leave for new parents.

The group apparently plans to hold hearings across the city to craft a compromise ordinance similar to the minimum wage compromise.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), chief sponsor of the paid sick leave ordinance, said he has no problem with the process the mayor has put in place. Nor is he ruling out a compromise, so long as the final version isn’t so watered-down that it “compromises our values.”

“We’re gonna continue to push. . . . If we get to a point where we’re not seeing true progress, you’ll see a different kind of press conference,” Moreno said.

“But right now, we are pretty much on the same page, moving forward and thinking it’s pragmatic to have this working group. We want to hear from those in Chicago.”

Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy for Women Employed, was asked whether she’s concerned that Emanuel will be less motivated to appease progressives now that the mayoral election is behind him.

“Eighty two percent of voters support earned sick time. How is anybody gonna step away from that? How is anybody gonna ignore that? . . . Of course it’s going to move forward. If there’s any possibility [that it won’t], we’ll have another press conference where we’ll call upon him,” Josephs said.

The stalled ordinance that will serve as a starting point for negotiations now must be re-introduced in the new City Council.

It would require employers large and small to provide what workers in 18 other cities and three states have, but 460,000 workers in Chicago lack: at least five paid sick days a year.

The plan would let employees accumulate sick days at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked — up to nine a year — for companies with 10 or more employees.

The time could be used 120 days after the employee’s starting date under the following circumstances: personal or family illness or preventive care; due to an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault; or because of school or building closure due to a public health emergency.

Moreno challenged restaurants that don’t support the ordinance to put a sign in their windows that read: “Our employees may be sick when they’re serving you.”

“I doubt they want that kind of publicity. . . . They’re preparing our food. They’re making our beds in our hotels. It’s just unconscionable,” he said.

Rameka Aton of the Restaurant Opportunity Center of Chicago said it’s time to shift the discussion from what we eat to the health of those who serve the food we eat.

“There’s absolutely nothing significant about having an organic burger if it’s coughed on,” Aton said.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather Restaurants, said he has agreed to be part of the mayoral panel.

But Tunney made it clear that he does not support the paid sick leave ordinance in its current form, nor does he offer it to his restaurant employees.

“I can’t afford it. Payroll is our highest percentage in our business. This is a payroll cost,” Tunney said.

As for Aton’s warning about food sanitation, Tunney said, “I haven’t had a problem in 35 years with my employees.”

Mayoral spokeperson Shannon Breymaier reiterated that the mayor “supports paid sick leave for workers.” But she noted that legislation mandating the change “could be done at either the state level or the city level.”

“To ensure that we continue to address important issues affecting working families all at once instead of in a piecemeal fashion, we have been working with the paid sick leave coalition to establish the Working Families Working Group to address paid sick leave for workers, provide protections to shift workers and pregnant employees, and expand access to paid leave for new parents,” she wrote in an email.