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Paid Sick Time Healthy For Eugene Workers

All workers in the city of Eugene might be eligible for paid sick leave in 2015 if the City Council moves forward with a proposed ordinance. 

Seventy-eight percent of low-wage workers and 51 percent of private-sector workers in Eugene don’t receive paid sick time, according to a study the Institute for Women’s Policy Research did for Everybody Benefits Eugene, a coalition of local organizations and businesses that support a paid sick leave ordinance. 

Workers often can’t afford to stay home and lose out on pay, says Laurie Trieger, campaign manager for Everybody Benefits Eugene. “Even one day, at 20 percent of your wages, that’s the week’s groceries or that’s the gas in your car to get to that job for the month,” she says.

Eugene’s City Council decided during its June 18 work session to move forward with crafting an ordinance requiring employers to provide paid time off to their workers.

City Councilor Claire Syrett, who introduced the topic for council discussion along with Councilor Alan Zelenka, says the law will be modeled largely after Portland’s ordinance, which took effect Jan. 1. Portland and Seattle are among six other cities, as well as the state of Connecticut, that require employers to provide paid sick time.

Syrett says she expects Eugene’s policy to apply to all businesses, unlike the Portland ordinance, which requires only businesses with six or more employees to provide paid sick leave. 

Full- and part-time workers would be able to take time off for the diagnosis, care or treatment of mental or physical illnesses, injuries for themselves or family members without losing pay, if the ordinance retains that aspect of the Portland ordinance. In Portland’s code, employees earn their paid sick leave — one hour for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours per year. Time accrued can be used for part of a shift or a full shift.

Organizations supporting the ordinance include the Eugene-Springfield NAACP, Community Alliance of Lane County and nearly 50 small businesses, Trieger says.

Those opposed, including unnamed businesses that recently met with the Healthy Communities Initiative, claim the benefit will be abused by employees and will burden employers’ time and bank accounts.

There are costs associated with setting up the benefit, Syrett says, but all employers already track employee hours to report to the IRS and Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, and it won’t cost anything additional to maintain.

Trieger says policies such as the paid sick leave ordinance engender more workplace loyalty and better morale, decreasing turnover.

Four Eugene youths spoke at the May 27 City Council meeting in support of paid sick leave, saying they sometimes have to take care of their younger siblings because their parents do not have access to paid sick time. “When my parents have to go to work sick because they can’t afford to take one day off,” a North Eugene High School student says, “it really affects our family because … I have to stay home and not go to school. Sometimes I have to stay after school because I missed a day.” 

The Eugene City Council will host a public hearing about the paid sick leave ordinance 7:30 pm Monday, July 21, in Harris Hall at 125 E. 8th Ave.