State eyes new policies

Municipal gov’ts and the state are in a stalemate over paid sick leave proposals.

by Kevin Beckman

Minnesotans have grappled with whether to require employers to let workers earn paid sick leave for some time, but cities considering the issue are unsure if they can take action without the state.
The St. Paul City Council unanimously passed a resolution earlier this month to convene a task force to examine the possibility of extending earned sick and safe time to all employees in the city. 
A similar proposal was introduced in Minneapolis last year. Called the Working Families Agenda, the ordinance would have included measures to address fair scheduling, earned sick time and wage theft. 
The moves by both cities follow similar proposed state legislation that has been consistently introduced since 2008.
“It’s always good to have a level playing field across jurisdictions overall,” said Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who has been trying to push a statewide paid sick leave bill through the House of Representatives since 2008. “It’s better to have a state system than it is to have a local patchwork of systems.”
About 43 percent of the private sector workforce in Minnesota doesn’t have access to paid sick days, according to a 2015 study by the Main Street Alliance.
As cities address the question, some say that they want state legislation to address the issue first.
“I’d prefer to see it happen at the state level. That way you don’t have every city with a different set of ordinances to follow,” said Minneapolis Ward 12 Council member Andrew Johnson. “But the Legislature hasn’t taken a leadership role on this important public health issue until this point. That’s why the city has to step up.”
Statewide sick leave bills haven’t made much progress because of concerns from businesses.
“We have resistance from … the business community, as they don’t want the state to require any mandates on their local businesses,” said Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, the current Senate bill’s sponsor. “It’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction, just saying ‘Don’t regulate us.’”
Johnson said that if the state makes significant headway on the sick leave issue, he wants the Minneapolis ordinance put on hold so that the state can take over. 
But Pappas said she’s unsure if the senate will move forward with the issue this year.
“We want to see how things go in the city of St. Paul and Minneapolis and other cities that are considering it,” she said.
At a legislative preview event earlier this month at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said family sick leave is one of his top priorities this session.
It’s not uncommon for local and state regulations to contradict each other.
California’s state-wide paid sick leave law created implementation problems in San Francisco — the first city to implement a paid sick leave policy, said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, executive director of the city’s Office of Small Business. 
“That puts the business in this quagmire of trying to figure out how to negotiate between the local law and the state law,” she said. “If something enacts at the state, you need to be prepared to make some adjustments.”