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Voices weigh in on paid sick leave

Portland, Eugene have requirement; lawmakers consider making it a statewide policy.

Jim Houser says he has offered paid sick leave to employees at his Portland auto repair business for 32 years — and last year, its average usage among nine full-time and two part-time workers was 2.7 days.

“Paid sick leave is one of our least costly and most effective benefits we offer,” says the owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic.

Anjeanette Brown lives in Portland but works in Gresham, so she is not covered by Portland’s city requirement for employers to provide paid sick leave.

“As far as I know, I have never had a job with paid sick leave,” Brown says, “Are there jobs with paid sick leave?”

Mike Nesbitt owns five Papa’s Pizza Parlors, where he started as a worker 40 years ago — and are in Eugene, which also has a sick-leave requirement scheduled to start July 1.

Although he opposes pending state legislation to require paid sick leave for all employees, he says there is an alternative.

“I want to see paid sick leave for those who work 30 or more hours, and I would like it to be categorized as paid time off,” he says.

Houser, Brown and Nesbitt are among the voices — along with labor unions and human services groups for it, and several business groups against it — that have weighed in on whether Oregon should be the fourth state to require paid sick leave.

House and Senate committees have heard testimony on two identical bills — Senate Bill 454 and House Bill 2005 — allowing workers to accumulate one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, to a maximum of seven days per year.

Each has the same 20 chief sponsors and co-sponsors, all Democrats.

A House committee heard but did not advance similar legislation in 2013. The Portland City Council then approved its own requirement, which took effect in January 2014; Eugene followed suit, but its requirement has not yet taken effect.

Even with Oregon’s two largest cities covered, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian says 47 percent of Oregon’s private-sector workforce would not accrue sick leave.

“When you look at low-wage workers, the gap is greater still --71 percent of low-wage workers, disproportionately women and people of color, lack sick days protection,” says Avakian, whose agency would oversee statewide compliance.

Connecticut passed a requirement in 2011. California and Massachusetts – one by legislative action, the other by voter approval – have requirements that will start July 1. So do cities such as New York and San Francisco, which already have them.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, says legislative leaders will name an informal work group to devise legislation that will institute a statewide standard for paid sick leave.

Pro: 'Necessary' benefit

Houser has owned Hawthorne Auto Clinic for 32 years, and his wife was the import technician for three years for the business’s previous owner.

When they hired their first employee, they began paid sick leave, “although we call it personal time.”

They now have 11 employees, and the nine full-time workers have an average tenure of 17 years.

“That kind of loyalty is critical to our business. In the same way that you would not want your customers to go elsewhere, it’s also true for our employees,” Houser says.

“We want to have benefits in place that will keep people happy and healthy, not to worry about being sick and missing time. We in small business are faced with competition from larger businesses that do not see the value in retaining employees. Their practices make it hard for us to be competitive.”

Houser says if the state legislation passes, he would have to extend his personal time off from five to the proposed standard of seven days.

Houser is also co-chairman of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a group of small-business owners promoting policies that may differ with those of other business groups.

According to an alliance survey of 443 owners, many of them outside the big cities, Houser says opinion is divided — 48 percent in favor, 36 percent against — but owners who are women favor it by 51 percent.

“People do not appreciate that small businesses have fears that exceed what is going to be involved,” he says.

As for Anjeanette Brown, paid sick leave is something whose time has come — and a benefit she has never enjoyed as a worker.

“Paid sick leave is necessary, if we are going to be able to survive in this country, because we have to take care of our sick, needy and elderly,” she says.

“It’s a step in the right direction to help people out in their time of need.”

Con: Alternatives available

But Mike Nesbitt, who started as a dough roller four decades ago and now owns the five Papa’s Pizza Parlors in Eugene, says the state legislation is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

He says a more workable alternative would make a distinction between truly part-time workers and those working 30 or more hours.

“Employees working 30 or more hours are those who suffer extreme consequences when they must miss work. Part-time workers, who represent 90 percent of my employees, have the option to make up missed days through shift trading, and they already do this regularly,” Nesbitt says.

“My employees who work 30 hours or more are my key employees, and I can’t get by without them. This is true in most restaurants, and in most businesses, and I’m not going to reduce their hours to avoid providing sick leave! That would be cutting my own throat.

“What I want a sick leave law — paid time off — to do is target those key employees as we already do with many of our current benefits (including vacation time).”

Helen Scott, formerly a partner in a Grants Pass bookstore, says many business owners in economically depressed communities such as hers cannot even afford to hire extra help.

“It used to be these owners could take some time and volunteer to help other projects in the community,” she says. “But now many must remain in their stores because they have not enough income to hire employees sufficient to cover the owner’s absence.

“Many shop owners will not be able to afford the extra expense of paid sick time for employees. Some would have no options left except to close the businesses.”


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Corrects name of Hawthorne Auto Clinic. Add a comment