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Tacoma's Paid Sick Leave Proposal: Too Sickly for Some

PHOTO: Tacoma has decided it's time for a paid sick leave policy for employers in the city, but the debate continues about whether the current proposal is useful or practical for workers. Photo credit: meggi/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: Tacoma has decided it's time for a paid sick leave policy for employers in the city, but the debate continues about whether the current proposal is useful or practical for workers. Photo credit: meggi/FeaturePics.com.
December 15, 2014

TACOMA, Wash. - Workers in Tacoma are watching City Hall this week, as a proposal to allow them to earn three days of paid sick leave per year is officially introduced at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

While they acknowledge it's better to have some paid time off than none, many are speaking out about the shortcomings of the plan. It exempts union workers, and there's no carryover - the three days must be accrued each year, starting Jan. 1.

"It's a Chamber, big-business, corporate-backed proposal, and that's why you see so many exemptions for working people and the most watered-down version of the bill in the country," said City Councilman Ryan Mello, one of the plan's most outspoken critics. "We need a much better version that works for average working people in Tacoma."

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said the three-day limit was based on research from San Francisco's paid-time-off policy. Seattle has an ordinance allowing workers to take from five to nine days of paid sick leave per year, depending on business size.

Karen Herde, a nurse who lives and works in Tacoma, said the obvious concern is people who infect others by working when they're ill. She also worries about parents who need time off to care for sick children.

"We often run into this in my place of work, where they have an infant that's very sick, and one of the parents can't be there with the baby because they're afraid they're going to lose their job," she said. "That's a sad thing for those families, when they have to choose between their job and a sick kid."

Mello predicted a good crowd at Tuesday evening's council meeting, where he plans to make several amendments to the proposal.

"Up to seven days of earned paid leave, from the current three; make sure that all workers, including union workers, are included; and to be abundantly clear that workers can't be retaliated against, disciplined or fired simply for taking a valid sick day," he said.

The Tacoma council won't make a final decision until January at the earliest.

The council meeting is to begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA