Bellingham council to consider requiring paid sick leave

City Council could consider adding Bellingham to the growing list of cities and states that require employers to give their workers paid sick leave.

During an afternoon work session, Monday, July 6, council member Roxanne Murphy asked that the council look at requiring a set amount of paid sick or safe leave for businesses in the city limits.

Her inspiration, she said, came from an announcement earlier this year by President Barack Obama that he would push Congress to pass a bill allowing workers to earn up to seven paid sick days per year.

About 40 percent of private-sector employees nationwide work for a company or business that doesn’t provide sick pay, according to a White House fact sheet.

“I would love to start by saying today is simply an introduction, I’m not asking for decision-making,” Murphy said. “We need to hear many voices in this process. I’m committed to hearing as many voices as possible.”

Though members didn’t talk about specifics of the program Monday afternoon, the packet of materials Murphy introduced included a draft ordinance crafted by a coalition of unions and local groups that represent local workers, called Healthy Bellingham.

According to a fact sheet compiled by Healthy Bellingham, about 21,000 of 49,000 Bellingham jobs don’t offer any paid sick leave.

Typically, city staff would craft a draft ordinance, but Murphy said she wanted to bring the Healthy Bellingham draft forward just to give council members an idea of what they might be looking at in the future.

Mayor Kelli Linville asked that city staff be allowed to craft the official draft ordinance if the council wanted to consider that policy change, to ensure the wording follows city and state codes.

The council opted to pick up the discussion at a future committee meeting.

The Healthy Bellingham draft rule closely follows the type of requirements listed in similar rules passed in Seattle, Tacoma and Oregon, which each require a specific amount of time be accrued for every 30 or 40 hours worked.

In June, Oregon passed its version of the law, requiring most businesses to set aside at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works.

Among the suggested requirements laid out in the Healthy Bellingham draft ordinance:

▪  Employees would accrue at least one hour of paid sick or safe time for every 30 hours worked.

▪  No employer would be required to allow an employee to use more than seven days’ leave, or 56 hours, in a year.

▪  Employees would need to work at least 90 days at their job before being able to use any accrued time.

▪  Unused leave would carry over to the next year. Employers wouldn’t be required to carry over more than 56 hours.

“So many community members have come to me about this and shared really heartbreaking stories of things they’ve had to experience,” Murphy said. “I ask even our toughest adversaries of this to please just keep an open mind and an open heart as we go through this.”

Among the many groups supporting the measure is UFCW 21, the largest private-sector union in Washington state, representing more than 44,000 members who work in retail, grocery stores, and other industries. Also supporting is Teamsters Local 231, SEIU 1199, the Whatcom-Skagit Industrial Workers of the World, Occupy Bellingham, the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, and the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, Murphy said.

A University of Washington survey of Seattle businesses found that 70 percent of business owners supported the paid sick leave ordinance a year after it took effect, and small businesses were more likely to be in compliance than bigger businesses, according to a fact sheet Healthy Bellingham provided to council.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog and follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.