Workplace Partnership Group gathers testimony for mayor, council
A mother sent her fevered child to school because she couldn’t afford to miss work and stay home with him. She later had to rush the child to the emergency room because the fever kept rising.
Another woman says because her current 28-hours-a-week job doesn’t qualify her as part-time, “I’ve been at work sick because I can’t afford not to.”
These were the kind of stories the City of Minneapolis Workplace Partnership Group heard last week. The group is charged to “study the impact of policy proposals…on earned sick time and paid time off” for both workers and businesses. This would only apply to Minneapolis-based businesses, its employees or all employees working in Minneapolis. Some of the things the group is looking into include:
Using personal sick leave for sick family members
Differentiating sick leave from other time off (including vacation)
How sick time or paid time off is accrued
Full time or part time; all kinds of jobs; and any exclusions to the policy
Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Minneapolis City Council selected five main group members, and the remaining 10 at-large members and four alternatives were also chosen by the council. They’ve held “multiple listening sessions” this month around the city, including four scheduled January 26-28.
Chris Pennock opened the January 21 session at Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis and said that the group most likely will recommend to the city council that a new Minneapolis paid sick time law be enacted.
“It’s about equity,” added Brian Elliott, who asked for “personal experiences” from those wishing to share them publicly. “Everybody gets sick, but not everyone can afford to get sick.”
D’Andre, a North Minneapolis resident, said that he once missed an entire work week due to being sick, but he didn’t have any paid sick time. The 35-year-old afterwards told the MSR, “I had to borrow money from friends to eat and pay the rent. It hurts without paid sick time.” He estimates around 45 people he knows are in a similar situation at their jobs.
Gloria, a Black woman, says that many workers work without sick time, especially those who are domestic violence victims and can’t afford to miss work to go to court to press charges.
Community organizer Michael McDowell was there and heard the testimonies. “I’m hoping that they [the group] hear that it is not just the full-time [workers] who already have [paid time off],” he told the MSR. “We need a policy that helps the folk…who are working at McDonalds [and] these retail stores.”
A new citywide paid sick time law “will help both sides — businesses will benefit from it because their workers will be happy,” said McDowell. But he is also concerned about those in opposition, mainly business groups such as the Minneapolis Downtown Council. He also worries that it might pit part-time workers against full-time. “This isn’t a policy that pits workers against each other.”
Steve Cramer, the Downtown Council’s president, CEO, and a member of the Workplace Partnership Group, was present at last week’s session but left immediately afterwards without comment. He has been vocal against a mandatory sick-time law.
“He [Cramer] says he would support it…[if] it wasn’t something businesses had to do,” said Pennock. The MSR was unsuccessfully in contacting Cramer for comment.
There was one Black person — Ron Harris of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) — on last week’s “listening” panel at Sabathani. However, Deputy City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde told the MSR that approximately one-half of the 19-member group is diverse. “There is a real attempt to have different voices” in the group, she noted. “We have folks from the Latino community, the East African community, [and] the African American community.”
Said McDowell, “I would love to actually see more low-wage workers [at the sessions], who are most affected on this group. I think they would give the best recommendations to the council.”
Harris told the MSR afterwards that the listening sessions have given him and other group members “a fair amount of information [and] good feedback” that a city-wide paid sick policy is favorable to workers. “I think because of the process, we will come up with something good,” he predicted.
The Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, a national advocacy group, supports earned sick time. This month they released a study that analyzed the costs and benefits of earned sick laws passed in five U.S. cities and one state. Pennock said he hopes this will help in their case for paid sick time.
“That is the plan,” he reiterated. “We are going to be talking to several cities who have already implemented this and how it worked there and impacted [businesses].”
“We have a fair number of people [in the group] who are advocates, and some people who are opponents,” he said of the Workplace Partnership Group, whose recommendations are expected to be presented to the city council on February 24.
“I was really excited to hear the deeply personal stories,” said Elliott afterwards. “This was real beneficial for the group to hear.”
“This is our 10th listening session,” said Rivera-Vandermyde. “I think we have been doing a great job listening” to both workers and business owners. “I think it is going well.”
Asked if there is a clear majority of group members who favor paid sick time, Pennock responded, “Yes.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.