Aldermen propose paid sick days for all workers in Chicago

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Chicago employers large and small would be required to provide at least five paid sick days a year for their employees under an ordinance proposed Wednesday to provide a much-needed benefit for 460,000 workers without it.

The plan to 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—was introduced by nearly a dozen progressive aldermen at the behest of Women Employed, unions and other advocates for low-wage workers and health care practitioners.

They argue that 42 percent of Chicago’s private sector employees do not get a single sick day and that the figure is nearly twice that for low-income workers in the food service and health care industries, which are dominated by women.

That means the employees must somehow get to work, even when they have the flu or high fever. That puts co-workers, patients, and grocery and restaurant patrons at risk.

Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) was once one of those employees.

At 32, she caught chicken pox from the kids next door but didn’t know it.

She dragged herself to work—in the bakery department at her local Jewel “making cakes for little kids”—because she got no sick days and couldn’t afford to take one of her three “personal days.”

“For three days, I was at work and my fever was so bad that water ran down my leg. I had no idea what was wrong with me,” Foulkes said.

“This is not a statistic—something I read about. This is real. I understand because I walked in these workers-behind-me’s shoes.”

Carlos Romero, a former deli employee, told a similar story of handling food behind the counter with a 102-degree fever.

“They told me if I did not come in, I would lose my job. So with bills at my door, I had no choice. A week later, a co-worker came into work and reported that she had the flu. I could not help but realize that I may have caused that illness. I thought to myself, who else could I have infected?” Romero said.

The ordinance, co-sponsored by Foulkes and Ald.  “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st), would impact every employer in Chicago—even parents with a single child-care worker in their own home.

Employers with fewer than 10 employees would be required to provide five sick days per year, with a maximum of nine sick days for those with with more than 10 employees.

Sick days could be used for personal illness, doctor’s visits, to care for family members or if schools are closed. Cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking would also qualify.

Proponents pegged the cost to Chicago employers at $109 million. That’s roughly 22 cents an hour and $8.13 a week for qualifying employees.

But supporters argued that the cost would be more than offset by increased employee morale and productivity and reductions in work-related illness, food-borne disease, emergency room visits and employee turnover.

“This is a pro-business ordinance,” Moreno said.

Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, argued that 72 percent of companies with 100 or more employees already offer paid sick days.

“This is really targeting small businesses, which are the lifeblood of Chicago’s economy. It doesn’t matter what area they’re in, small businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. Another government mandate to raise their cost of doing business is not the thing the city should be doing right now,” she said.

After Seattle and San Francisco imposed similar mandates, 30 percent of the “lowest wage” employees reported layoffs or reduced hours, Triche said. Other companies reduced the number of vacation days they grant to their employees, she said.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Food Retailers Association  either could not be reached or had no immediate comment on the ordinance.

The ordinance also includes a no-retaliation clause for employees using sick days. But if the absence is longer than three consecutive days, employers “may require certification that use of sick time was authorized.” At least seven days notice would be required before “foreseeable” absences.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly.


Laws on Paid Sick Leave Divide Businesses (WSJ)

Paid Leave Laws Catch On Across the Nation (NPR)

Despite Business Fears, Sick-Day Laws Like New York’s Work Well Elsewhere

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