Time has come for statewide earned sick and safe time, MN lawmakers say

Maria Vazquez, a member of CTUL, recalled going to work with a fever and trembling legs before St. Paul’s earned sick and safe time ordinance went on the books in July 2017.

Minnesota lawmakers today held up St. Paul’s earned sick and safe time ordinance as a shining example of policy they hope to replicate statewide.

Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul and Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth, lead authors of legislation that would extend paid sick and safe time to an estimated 900,000 Minnesotans working without the benefit, said the time has come to ensure no one is forced to choose between their paycheck and their health.

“Over several sessions here at the Capitol, we have spent a great deal of time vetting this critical solution for economic security,” Olson said during a press conference with workers and advocates in advance of the measure’s first committee hearings.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic’s darkest days, we saw just how important it was for people to stay home when they were sick,” she added. “But this was a problem well before COVID, and it’s a problem we are going to solve now.”

The solution looks much like the policy members of the St. Paul City Council sent to then-Mayor Chris Coleman’s desk in September 2016.

The DFLers’ proposed legislation would require employers to provide one hour of sick time for every 30 hours an employee works, with accrued time capped at 48 hours per year – a rate on par with the St. Paul ordinance.

Employees would be able to carry over unused time from year to year, but their accrued time could not exceed 80 hours, barring an independent arrangement between the employer and employee.

The legislation spells out a range of ways workers could use their accrued time, including to recover or to seek care for injuries and illnesses to themselves or family members.

Maria Vazquez, a member of the worker center CTUL, was working as a housekeeper in St. Paul when the city council took up earned sick and safe time. At the Capitol press conference, she recalled showing up to work with a fever and trembling legs before finally gaining access to the benefit.

“Other people would rightly ask, ‘Why are you going to work when you are sick?’” Vazquez said via an interpreter. “But when you are employed without those benefits you still have responsibilities… If I didn’t go to work, it was (choosing) between my health or the roof over my head, the food on the table.”

Preventative-care appointments and weather-related school closures also would qualify under the proposed legislation, as would so-called “safe time” – absences that result from suffering domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.

Laura Carpenter, a former food service worker in the Minneapolis Public Schools, recalled accessing her earned sick and safe time to seek legal protection from an abusive partner in 2018.

“I was able to take the day off work and go downtown to (Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center), where I was supported by an advocate who helped me navigate the legal system,” Carpenter remembered. “This resource was invaluable for my family … but I wouldn’t have been able to access it during the daytime hours if I was worried about my job security or losing my income.”

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have earned sick and safe time laws on the books, as do the cities of Minneapolis, Duluth and Bloomington.

In St. Paul, the ordinance has worked so well that council members are poised to strengthen it, extending coverage to employees of companies outside St. Paul when they perform work in the city. The goal, Ward 2’s Rebecca Noecker said, is an even playing field – something a statewide measure could ultimately ensure.

“There’s a narrative that these sorts of policies are bad for businesses, but that can’t be farther from the truth,” Noecker said. “We have seen business owners in my ward and throughout the city respond really positively to the way that these policies provide a benefit that they would like to be able to provide for their employees.”

Trackbacks

  1. […] Workers are delivering powerful testimony in support of Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) and Earned Sick and Safe Time (ESST), bills that will improve working Minnesotans’ quality of life, ensuring that they are able […]

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