PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 5th, 2014, 5:23pm

Chicago City Council Roundup: Paid Sick Days, Parking Meters, Petcoke & Puppy Mills

Progress Illinois provides the highlights from Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Chicago City Council meeting, a large group of worker advocates rallied in support of proposed legislation that looks to make earned paid sick days a requirement in the Windy City.

Alds. Joe Moreno (1st) and Toni Foulkes (15th) introduced an ordinance at the council meeting aimed at ensuring that all workers in Chicago who are currently without paid sick days are able to take time off to care for their own illnesses, an ill family member or attend medical appointments.

The proposal is backed by more than 30 organizations with the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition, which includes a number of labor unions, worker centers, public health advocates and groups working to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, among others.

According to the coalition, about 42 percent of the private sector workers in Chicago, or about 460,000 people, do not have access to any paid sick days.

Employers in Chicago are expected to spend about $109 million to provide the new earned paid sick days, which is about equal to a $0.22 per hour wage increase or $8.13 a week for eligible workers, according to an analysis of the proposal by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR).

But Moreno called the ordinance “commonsense” and “pro-business” due to the employer benefits that come with earned paid sick time.

Those benefits, including reduced turnover and flu contagion and increased productivity, are actually estimated to provide $6 million in expected net savings for Chicago employers, according to IWPR's estimations.

“As we all know, the federal government and Springfield, although we have some good people there, (are) slow to act on a lot of these issues, so if they’re not going to act, the city is going to act,” Moreno said. “New York has done this. Other municipalities have done this. It’s time that Chicago does this.”

In addition to New York City, municipalities such as Jersey City, San Francisco, and Seattle already require some form of paid sick days.

Businesses and employers of all sizes in the city would be impacted by the proposed ordinance, including those who hire domestic workers, such as house cleaners or nannies. Workers would be able to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Both full-time and part-time workers would be able earn up to 40 hours of sick time each year if their employer has less than 10 employees. Under the measure, employers with more than 10 employees would have to provide their workers with up to 72 hours of sick time per year. Overall, businesses with fewer than 10 employees would have to give their employees up to five paid sick days each year, while larger employers would have to provide up to nine days.

Under the proposed measure, workers would also be allowed to access their paid leave time to care for their health after an incidence of domestic or sexual violence or to find solutions, such as a protective order or new housing, to avoid or prevent further domestic or sexual violence, the ordinance states. It would let workers tap into their earned paid sick days if their place of employment or the school where their children attend is closed as the result of a public health emergency.

In remarks before the council meeting, Foulkes said she understands the plight of workers who lack sick days. About 20 years ago, Foulkes worked in the bakery department at a Jewel-Osco as a cake decorator. She said she came down with the chickenpox and had to go to work while ill due to her lack of paid sick days.

“Instituting a policy to enable hard working Chicagoans to earn sick time will protect public health and make our neighborhoods a safe, healthier place to live,” Foulkes said. “This proposal will keep employees from spreading their illness to the public.”

Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, which is a proponent of the ordinance, said no paid sick time is a big issue for low-wage workers and women. That’s because the jobs that offer the fewest paid sick days include those in the food service, personal care and child care sectors. More often, these jobs are held by women and provide low-wages, Ladky explained. Proponents of the measure said about 80 percent of low-wage workers are without paid sick days.

“When they get sick, they have to decide whether to come in sick or take a day off without pay, and in many cases, if they do take that day off without pay, they are in danger of losing their jobs,” Ladky said“If they take a day without pay, they’re going to have to cut back on the basics: groceries, rent, bus fare.”

Deivid Rojas, spokesman for the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, said the city’s union of fast food and retail workers “absolutely” supports the call for earned paid sick days.

“Eighty percent of workers in Chicago that work in the food industry don’t have sick days,” Rojas stressed. “From our experience, I think that figure is closer to 99 percent. I have not met a single worker in the fast food industry that has a [paid] sick day … These are workers with families. These are workers that have responsibilities or have kids.“ 

As of Wednesday afternoon, 26 total aldermen had signed on to the ordinance. It has been referred to the city’s Committee on Workforce Development and Audit.

Puppy mills

The council approved City Clerk Susana Mendoza's legislation to limit the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits from pet shops in Chicago to those sourced from shelters and other humane adoption centers.

Under the Companion Animal and Consumer Protection Ordinance, the retail sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in the city will be banned. The measure goes into effect on year from today, in order to give retailers time to adjust to the requirements.

“Our legislation cuts off a pipeline animals from the horrendous puppy mill industry and instead moves the City to a retail pet sales model that focuses on adopting out the many, many homeless animals in need of homes in this City,” Mendoza said. “The Midwest, and specifically the states surrounding Illinois, is at the very center of the puppy mill industry. I expect that this overwhelming vote today will create a flood of support for similar legislation throughout the rest of the country."

The council approved the ordinance with a 49-1 vote, with the only "no" vote coming from Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

"The reality is that theses bans don’t end the practice or the product," the alderman said. "They just push the practice to the suburbs."

The Chicago Veterinary Medical Association issued the following statement in light of the ordinance's passage:

The Chicago Veterinary Medical Association is against unethical, unscrupulous breeders and believes that these must be put out of business.

We understand the issue of an overburdened shelter system and support any action that promotes compassionate care of animals, including responsible breeding practices.

We strongly promote the adoption of healthy, well socialized pets into loving homes.

We look forward to working with the City of Chicago Aldermen and City Clerk Mendoza on a proactive public education campaign to promote responsible pet ownership, pet health, and animal welfare for the long term benefit of pet owners and residents.

Parking meter update

Also on Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted the “better than expected savings” from the revised parking meter contract with Chicago Parking Meters LLC (CPM) that former mayor Richard M. Daley originally inked back in 2008.

The adjustments made last year to the 75-year contract were part of an overall city settlement with CPM over outstanding legal disputes. The changes included free parking for most parts of the city on Sundays, a pay-by-cell option to be launched later this spring and extended evening parking hours in some areas.

A recent analysis by Navigant Consulting, which the city hired, found that exchanging evening hours in some parts of the city for free Sunday parking has resulted in a net savings for motorists of at least $2.1 million, which is up 60 percent from the original $1.3 million estimate. The analysis, conducted from July 1 to December 31, also showed that “when certain effects in parking behavior were taken into consideration, the reduction in paid Saturday parking due to free Sunday parking and a shift in parking during earlier periods to the extended hours, the net savings increased to $3.6 million,” according to a release from the mayor’s office.

However, Navigant found that extended evening hours in certain parts of the city cost $6.6 million. That's $800,000 less than originally projected.

Credit dowgrade

After the council meeting, Emanuel responded to the city’s credit downgrade by Moody's Investor Service on Tuesday.

Moody's gave the city a "negative outlook" and downgraded its $388 million bond issuance to Baa1 from A3, citing the amount of money the city owes and its “massive and growing unfunded pension liabilities.”

Emanuel said the city’s pension shortfall is a “byproduct of decades of deferral and denial,” adding that the city has “run out of room on that runway.”

“We have to confront this in a respectful way so our employees have the retirement like the park district employees,” the mayor said, referring to the reform legislation focused on the Chicago Park District's pension program that Gov. Pat Quinn signed in January.

“It is now on track that our workers at the park district will get a retirement they can count on and our taxpayers can afford to do it,” Emanuel said. “I think we can do that for the city employees as well.”

Petcoke proposal

As promised, a proposal to prohibit new petcoke facilities from opening in the city and to prevent existing sites from expanding was introduced at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Mounds of petcoke, which is a thick, powdery byproduct of oil refining that can pollute the air and water, are being stored along the banks of the Calumet River on Chicago's Southeast Side. Residents living near the piles have complained of petcoke dust blowing into their neighborhoods and getting into their homes. The petcoke piles were barged there from the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana.

“I do not want to see the city of Chicago as a dumping ground for the products out of Indiana,” Emanuel told reporters. “We’re going to do what we need to do …t o protect the public health of the community that lives on the far South Side near the Indiana border.”

Other happenings

In other news, the council gave the city the OK to enter into an agreement with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place, for the development and construction of a new 1,200-room “headquarters hotel” near the convention center. The agreement involves up to $55 million in city tax increment financing funds for the more than $400 million hotel project, planned for the site at 300 E. Cermak Rd., near the corner of Prairie Avenue and Cermak Road. The project involves rehabilitating, preserving and incorporating the landmark American Book Company Building, at 320-330 E. Cermak Rd., into the hotel complex. The hotel and the new DePaul University basketball arena, also set to be built near McCormick Place, is part of the mayor's plan to turn the area into an entertainment district.

Alds. John Arena (45th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) voted against entering into the agreement.

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