After months of discussion, the Portland City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a historic -- if also divisive -- ordinance that mandates that area businesses have an earned sick time policy.
"This is a historic moment for human rights in America," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz. "I believe in my heart this is right. ... Real change does not come without sacrifice."
Portland joins Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut as the only jurisdictions to mandate sick leave.
A coalition of activists, led by the advocacy group Family Forward Oregon, began pushing the issue early last year. They found a strong supporter in Fritz, who crafted the policy and made sick leave a signature issue.
Under the ordinance approved Wednesday, private employers in Portland will have to give employees up to 40 hours of sick leave each year. Employees will earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. They will also need to work at least 240 hours a year to qualify. Businesses with at least six employees will have to offer paid time off, while smaller companies can provide unpaid leave.
New employees will not be able to tap into accrued sick leave for 90 days and the policy also extends to workers employed by companies in other cities that work at least 240 hours in Portland.
The push for sick leave found wide support among unions and groups representing people of color. They've made the case that sick leave is an equity issue.
However, the ordinance has also drawn significant criticism from business interests including the Portland Business Alliance and the Northwest Grocery Association. They say the process moved too quickly and was not inclusive. Others have said the policy will cut into already-thin profit margins.
"It is an imperfect ordinance that adversely impacts small business," said Megan Doern of the Portland Business Alliance in an interview. "We're concerned about companies that offer robust sick leave or leave benefits and the amount of record keeping and the lack of protection in the current ordinance."
The city will now begin crafting the specific rules regarding the policy, which is slated to take effect at the beginning of 2014.
Though the sick leave debate at the city level may have ended Wednesday, there's a chance it will soon pick up again at the state Capitol, where a handful of lawmakers have introduced a bill and pledged to pursue a statewide rule.
"Clearly the passage of the ordinance in Portland gives a lot of momentum to this," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat and one of the bill's co-sponsors. "We want this to be a statewide solution. The workers all around the state need this, frankly.
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