Working Families Agenda shifts focus to sick-leave

A group will study a proposed policy that requires businesses to provide paid sick leave.

Nick Wicker

Minneapolis officials and residents expected a heated discussion on Wednesday over the controversial Working Families Agenda, a city policy aimed at protecting low-income workers. 
Instead, the only scheduled City Hall events are the City Council’s routine meetings. 
The plan would have required businesses to give employees paid sick leave, provide work schedules further in advance and address wage theft, but on Oct. 23, the City Council voted to axe the scheduling clause and cancel the Nov. 4 public hearing. 
Still, some city officials say the legislation is far from dead, and the council will vote Friday for a group to draft a more specific and downsized plan, which would be ready by February.
Minneapolis leaders have discussed the Working Families Agenda since April when Mayor Betsy Hodges announced the policy in her State of the City address.
By mid-October, pushback from businesses led Hodges to end her support for four-week advance scheduling notice for local businesses to instead focus on paid sick leave.
The shift caused more than 300 Minneapolis residents, many of them low-wage workers, to walk through City Hall in silent protest the next day.
At the Oct. 23 meeting, advocates for the scheduling measure attempted to convince the council they should continue discussing the issue.
Ward 10 City Councilwoman Lisa Bender, co-author of the original plan, said at the meeting the city shouldn’t have struck down the original agenda. She was one of three dissenting council members. 
“Now is not the time to back away from what has become a very difficult conversation in our city,” Bender said at the meeting. “We started this conversation because too many people do not have simple protections in their workplaces.”
Workplace plan still in play 
Ward 12 City Councilman Andrew Johnson co-authored the new version of the legislation, called the Workplace Regulation Partnership, which will research and write the city ordinance requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave.
A report published last week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research said 42 percent of Minneapolis workers lack guaranteed paid sick leave.
“Access to paid sick time promotes safe and healthy work environments by reducing the spread of illness and workplace injuries, reduces health care costs and supports children and families by helping parents to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities,” the report said.
According to the report, 78 percent of government-employed workers received the benefit compared to 55 percent in the private sector, and 63 percent of white workers compared to 32 percent of Hispanic workers.
The income level of a given worker also plays a role — those earning higher wages have a greater probability of receiving sick pay than others, the report said.
Johnson said proponents hoped the original agenda would pass through the council by the end of the year, but public hearings and debate may have pushed the policy’s vote into next year.
The new plan includes a group of business owners, employees and city officials that will work to decide how to implement the paid sick leave policy, Johnson said.
“When you look at the cities that have passed paid sick leave,” he said, “more [often] than not you’re seeing cities take the same approach that we took of doing more of a workgroup.”
Johnson said the new policy may have more success than the old one because it shifts the question from “whether” the city will implement paid sick leave to “how” it will do
“Clearly it is something worth doing. It’s good for everybody,” he said. “And it’s good for business, too.”
Georgia Sander, co-owner of Kafe 421 in Dinkytown, said she was opposed to the earlier scheduling requirements because her catering operation requires flexibility but wants to be a part of the new discussion over paid sick leave.
“If there was an agenda and business owners are invited, I definitely would participate,” Sander said, adding that her employees already receive paid sick leave.
She said she was interested in how a sick leave requirement would affect Minneapolis small businesses.
Johnson said if the City Council approves the Workplace Regulations Partnership, the group will have a written plan prepared for a vote by February 2016.