Eugene, Ore., council votes to require paid sick leave

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EUGENE, Ore.— The Eugene City Council has voted to draft an ordinance requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to an estimated 25,000 workers in the city who don’t have it in their benefits packages.

The ordinance is expected to be similar to sick leave laws in a handful of other, larger cities and the state of Connecticut, the Register-Guard reported.

The vote Wednesday was 6-2. The draft may be ready for a hearing July 21 and a vote July 28. It could be effective July 1, 2015.

The debate among the council members echoed that in other jurisdictions:

• Not having sick leave forces employees to choose between working and staying home to take care of themselves or sick children. Workers who stay home risk being fired. Those who go to work put colleagues at risk of getting sick.

• Requiring sick leave imposes costs on business that will discourage hiring. Opponents of requiring sick leave cite the financial impact on businesses, said council member Claire Syrett. But, she said, a heavier cost falls on the “individuals and families in our community who are least able to bear this financial burden.”

Councilors George Poling and Mike Clark voted against the measure.

“It’s pre­arranged. The fix is in. We are going to pass this,” Clark said. “The only debate that we are going to have is how much damage is the council willing to inflict on the community by force.”

In Portland, businesses with six or more employees must allow workers to accrue an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours a year.

The Portland requirement applies to businesses outside the city limits with employees who work at least six weeks a year inside the city.

A similar provision would mean businesses nearby in Springfield, Junction City and elsewhere or would have to track their employees’ hours when they work in Eugene, and provide them paid sick leave.

The council also voted 5-3 against putting the measure on the ballot to give voters the final say.

Syrett said it would bring in outside money and lobbyists to “use us for a playing ground for themselves,” and it would “create divisiveness where it currently doesn’t exist.”

Clark predicted a backlash, either in a referendum on a sick leave ordinance or in a proposal for a charter amendment to keep the council from adopting any more legislation of the sort.