Chicago workers burst into cheers Thursday after a city council committee advanced legislation to make earned paid sick leave a requirement in the Windy City.
Chicago workers and their advocates are celebrating Thursday now that mandatory paid sick leave is one step closer to becoming a reality in the city.
Aldermen on the Workforce Development and Audit Committee approved the proposed earned paid sick time ordinance Thursday morning, sending the measure to the full Chicago City Council for consideration.
"This would overnight suddenly give nearly half a million Chicago laborers the right to five paid sick days a year," said Adam Kader with the Arise Chicago worker center, one of the groups involved with the multi-year campaign for earned paid sick time in the city.
"It would be a revolutionary change in people's lives because there will be job protection and there will be wage protection the moment one gets sick, and that's never before in Chicago history been the case."
Forty-two percent of private sector workers in Chicago, or more than 460,000 individuals, have no access to paid sick leave.
Under the proposal, which piggybacks off recommendations made by the mayor's Working Families Task Force, employers would have to provide their workers with one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked.
Workers could earn up to five paid sick days each year and carry over 2.5 unused sick days into the next year.
Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th) is the ordinance's chief sponsor.
"It's a total victory," Foulkes said after the ordinance's committee approval.
Foulkes said she understands the plight of workers who lack paid sick leave. She formerly worked for 19 years as a cake decorator at a Jewel-Osco, where she had no paid sick days.
"It's emotional for me because I stood in their shoes," Foulkes said. "And to be an alderman today and to represent that sector of the community of Chicago, it's a feel-good feeling."
The lack of paid sick time is a big issue for low-wage workers and women in particular, according to advocates. That's because the jobs that offer the fewest paid sick days include those in the food service, personal care and child care sectors. Those jobs are more often held by women and provide low wages.
Overall, about 80 percent of low-wage workers are without paid sick days.
Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, an earned sick time proponent, said she's optimistic the ordinance will win approval in the full city council.
"We know we have 38 aldermen signed [onto the ordinance], which is more than the majority we need," she said. "We expect it to pass."
The ordinance could go up for a full city council vote as soon as next Wednesday's meeting. If approved, the paid sick time ordinance would take effect July 1, 2017.
"Finally, all workers are gonna be entitled to earn some amount of sick time, which makes complete sense," Josephs said.
Paid sick time supporters say the policy is a win for workers and employers alike. Benefits to businesses include reduced turnover, flu contagion and increased productivity, according to advocates.
Two business groups spoke in opposition to the proposal at Thursday's committee hearing -- the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA).
The groups argued, in part, that employers cannot afford yet another costly city mandate, claiming that small businesses in particular would be hardest hit by the paid sick days plan.
"We are not trying to kill paid sick leave. We spent a year debating the policy question," IRMA's Vice President and General Counsel Tanya Triche told aldermen. "What we're here asking you for is some consideration for the employers that you are asking more and more of every day."
Triche cited the city's recent minimum wage hike, plastic bag ban, tobacco product regulations and property tax hike as a few city policies that have dinged businesses.
Employers, Triche said, would face a "complicated scheme of providing" earned sick time to workers under the ordinance as written. She said the proposal should be simplified for employers.
"Considering that the city hasn't done much at all to create an environment to run a successful business that employs people, the least that you can do is ensure that before you issue another mandate that we will have to figure out how to pay for, that you make the administration of the mandate workable."
The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce's Michael Reever also took issue with the ordinance's provision exempting the construction industry from having to "follow the proposed ordinance outright if they have a bonafide collective bargaining agreement, regardless of what it contains."
"Every other employer that collectively bargains with their employees, a process the chamber is supportive of, must waive the application of this ordinance, regardless of their collective bargaining agreement," he said. "That fundamentally changes the nature of the collective bargaining process for both sides."
Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who co-chaired the Working Families Task Force, said the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, IRMA and advocates will all have a voice in the ordinance's rulemaking process to ensure "there is a balanced conversation."
For her part, Foulkes said aldermen heard similar arguments from the business lobby against other pro-worker measures, including the city's minimum wage hike.
"We heard the same thing," she said. "They're still here."
Before today's committee hearing, 14 Illinois state representatives whose districts include Chicago voiced support for the paid sick time measure.
They sent a letter to aldermen Wednesday, urging them to pass the legislation.
"Earned sick time is a broadly popular concept, as the recent 2015 referendum illustrated. Eighty-two percent of voters in the city of Chicago believe sick leave should be extended to all workers," the letter reads. "And it is rightly popular: this policy will allow workers to care for themselves when they are ill, increasing their quality of life and their employers' productivity and retention rates. It's good for workers, good for families and good for business."
Illinois Democratic State Reps. Luis Arroyo, Kelly Cassidy, John D'Amico, Marcus Evans, Sara Feigenholtz, Mary Flowers, La Shawn Ford, Will Guzzardi, Sonya Harper, Greg Harris, Lou Lang, Robert Martwick, Christian Mitchell and Ann Williams signed the letter.
The Illinois House members said they will push for similar legislation at the state level.
"We understand that statewide action in this area might be preferable, and will continue to fight for similar legislation in our chamber," the lawmakers wrote. "But given the fractious nature of Springfield presently, we are proud of Chicago for stepping up and leading the way."