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    Taking Care of Business – our “Wellness Bill”

    For the past few months as the Paid Sick Leave debate has waged, I have spoken with many business owners about the proposed bill.  I’ve repeatedly heard “it’s too complicated.”  “This isn’t the right time.”  “Why is government interfering in my business?”

    I have spent weeks meeting with dozens of community leaders including representatives from our downtown Chamber of Commerce, with large businesses, small businesses, with local restaurant owners in Fremont and Columbia City, and just this past weekend with micro-businesses in Ballard. 

    I have received hundreds of e-mails and read what my colleagues have drafted, as well as what Connecticut, and San Francisco, and Washington D.C. have enacted. 

    I have come to respect the work done by Nick Licata, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Dave Meinert, Steve Williamson, Dave Freiboth, Marilyn Watkins and other leaders from our labor and business community and more. 

    I have also heard the admonitions that Richard Conlin has offered.  I agree with him that this bill needs additional amendments, and the system that we are creating today may be difficult for some businesses to administer.  These problems, we must address.

    After hearing concerns and advice from every corner, I have reached three primary conclusions:

    1. The majority of businesses in this city provide some kind of leave and benefits for their employees.  Most employers actively care about their employees’ health and welfare, providing flexible schedules and often leave banks.  This enlightened approach encourages employee loyalty and wellness.

    2. This bill no longer focuses on public health alone.  What started off as a way to improve public health has morphed into something different.  It’s not about public health, it’s about community well-being. That’s a good thing.

    3. Most employers in our city believe that employees should be allowed to earn paid leave, or to have a flexible schedule as a social norm.  What they don’t want is more government interference.

    I was reluctant to support the first draft of this bill because it failed to adequately address the three conclusions I reached above, that is that over 60% of businesses already provide paid leave; that the bill started off to allegedly protect public health and now is much more; and third that many businesses are frustrated with the level of complexity and reporting requirements our City government already layers on them.

    That said, I have greatly appreciated what business leaders large and small, the labor and social justice advocates and my colleagues have accomplished these past few months. 

    • They have worked together and rewritten the bill to essentially exempt the employers who already provide paid sick leave or universal paid time off from these new regulations;
    • They have allowed shift swapping by employees in restaurants;
    • They have provided exemptions for new businesses;
    • They have set a floor and encouraged employers to do right by their employees;
    • They have set the start date a year out, giving employers time to adjust.

    So after months of study, here is what I believe:

    1. Workers MUST have access to paid or flexible leave.  Life happens.  As a mom who has raised two sons, and as the daughter who was the primary care giver for my 90 year old father at the end of his life, I know how critical flexibility and leave is in the work place.  The 5, 7, 9 days of leave that have been negotiated and outlined in this bill provide a level of decency and support for our workers.
    2. Exclusively Seattle-centric legislation may negatively impact Seattle businesses.  We should approach this problem as Connecticut has done, statewide.  My goal is to work with the advocates, my colleagues, our neighboring cities, our legislators and others who support fair policies to extend paid leave policies beyond the borders of Seattle. 
    3. We are making business owners crazy by asking them to fill out more and more forms for taxes, fees and permits.  We must simplify our city and state requirements.  I want to work with the mayor, and our Office of Economic Development and other department leaders to move toward a one stop, one form for businesses to simplify reporting requirements. 

    I also want to ask the Office for Civil Rights to look for ways to reduce the administrative burden on businesses.  One micro-business owner told me Saturday she is fearful of the time she will have to expend to respond to a challenge, particularly to a dismissed employee.

    I ask my colleagues to help me during the budget season to make this a reality among City departments.

    So to sum this up, here’s what I predict will happen next:

    Businesses, employees, and our city will work to put reasonable and workable policies in place.   After a few initial bumps we will work this out, and I believe the benefits will outweigh the costs.  I pledge right now to do what I can to simplify the administrative procedures in this city.  I also ask Office for Civil Rights, right now, to make this a streamlined program recognizing that not all small businesses can afford to have a separate human resources department.   And I ask the advocates to move toward a statewide or at a minimum, a county-wide bill. After all, public health knows no boundaries. 

    After many weeks of talking with people throughout this city, I believe we are doing the right thing.  This is no longer a “sick leave” bill; it has become a “wellness” bill.  I support this wellness bill and feel positive about how it has evolved.  We have more work to do, and I am voting yes.

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