Complaints about Seattle's new sick leave policy go to Olympia

By

Published:

 

SEATTLE -- Business groups are taking their complaints over Seattle's new sick leave policy to Olympia, saying the ordinance forces extra paperwork on employers, even those outside the city.

The 2011 ordinance requires businesses with at least five employees working in the city to provide at least five paid sick days a year. Larger employers are required to provide even more sick time.

Nearly 200,000 employees without paid leave were expected to be helped by the move.

A Senate hearing is scheduled Wednesday on two bills proposed by Republicans to repeal or weaken the sick leave ordinance. Sponsors say the bills stemmed from complaints by business groups.

Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are the only cities requiring paid sick leave for most workers. Wisconsin lawmakers overturned a similar law in Milwaukee last summer.

In Olympia, the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Restaurant Association and other business groups say they're hoping for a fuller discussion on the issue than they got in Seattle.

"It was moved through like a freight train," said George Allen of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which also is pushing for repeal.

Washington Restaurant Association President Anthony Anton said his organization wanted the Seattle City Council to move more slowly but ultimately did not oppose the ordinance.

However, Anton said, the group has received about 100 complaints since the law took effect in September 2012, including some from businesses outside the city that have to comply with the ordinance because it covers any employee who works at least 240 hours in the city in a given year.

"These employers are to be tracking their employees' hours from the moment they hit the city limits," Anton said. "The record-keeping requirements to do that are incredible. It's tremendously burdensome."

Elliott Bronstein of Seattle's Office for Civil Rights, which enforces the ordinance, said the out-of-town businesses were never a major target. Only about 10 of the 51 warning letters his office has sent so far have been to businesses based outside Seattle, he said.

Two conservative freshman Republicans have signed on to lead the effort against the ordinance: Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, and Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg.

Both also agreed to sponsor a second bill that would eliminate Seattle's paid sick leave entirely.

The Democratic caucus was not happy when the bills were introduced last week.

"I guess they just like to beat up on poor people," said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent.

Seattle city officials said they were not informed of the state proposals and haven't yet formed a response strategy.

Mayor Mike McGinn plans to talk with Braun but signaled in a statement he will oppose any changes to the law.

"Our economic-growth strategy is working here in Seattle," McGinn said. "The state Legislature shouldn't mess with it."