Chicagoans in favor of making earned paid sick days a requirement for private employers in the Windy City delivered 25,000 petition signatures to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office on Thursday in support of the policy.
In March, Alds. Joe Moreno (1st) and Toni Foulkes (15th) introduced an ordinance — backed by the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition and most of the council's 50 aldermen — that looks to ensure all workers in the city currently without paid sick leave are able to take time off to care for their own illnesses, a sick family member or attend medical appointments. Twenty-four other aldermen have co-sponsored the measure, which is pending in the council's Committee on Workforce Development and Audit.
"We need to get this passed now because it's about time," said Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed. "Forty-two percent of city [private sector] workers, almost half a million, don't have any sick time ... That's why we're dropping off these signatures now to let the mayor know there's a need."
After the ordinance was introduced, the equality activist group UltraViolet began collecting online petition signatures in support of the proposed paid sick time proposal. The online petition has garnered 24,700 signatures. The Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition collected about 300 additional hand-written petition signatures in the city over the past several weeks.
"It just shows that the community as a whole believes that this is a good idea," said Tom Donoghue, a summer intern with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, who helped circulate the petition around Chicago. "We were only doing it for about a three-and-a-half week period. To get about 300 hand-written ones alone, I think, just shows the community and people who work in the community see this as a positive thing for the city."
The proposed ordinance would apply to businesses and employers of all sizes in the city, 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 between 40 hours to 72 hours of paid sick leave annually, depending on the size of their employer.
Earned sick time is particularly important for restaurant employees who handle food and are forced to go to work when they're sick, advocates said. Nearly 80 percent of Chicago workers employed in the food industry have no access to paid sick days, according to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). Jobs in the city's personal care and service sectors are also among those that offer the fewest paid sick days.
Adam Kader with the workers' rights group Arise Chicago said many other U.S. cities are adopting paid sick leave policies, and the city of Chicago needs to "keep with the times."
"This is happening all over the nation," he explained, noting that the city councils in both San Diego and Eugene, Oregon just approved paid sick time measures.
New York City and other municipalities such as Jersey City, San Francisco, and Seattle already require some form of paid sick days.
"This is clearly happening. It's just a question of when" for the city of Chicago, Kader said.
"We're here to say that the 'when' should be now," he added. "The reason it should be now is the rising workforce – young people, people of color, women, Latino immigrants — are the least likely to have paid sick days. This is our future workforce that has to be invested in right now, and for there to be any stability in this economy, we need to have paid sick days."
Emanuel has not said publicly whether he supports the ordinance. The mayor's press office did not return Progress Illinois' request for comment.
"The fact that aldermen support this [shows] there is a will to this politically," said Ada Fuentes of Chicago Jobs with Justice. "It's happened in other cities across the country. I think it's time that Chicago step up and be the next city to pass earned sick time."
Here's more from Fuentes explaining the importance of the pending ordinance, as well as scenes from the petition delivery:
It would cost employers in Chicago about $109 million annually to provide earned paid sick days, which is about equal to a $0.22 per hour wage increase or $8.13 a week for eligible workers, IWPR's analysis of the proposal shows.
But advocates maintain that the proposed policy would have a positive net impact on employers due to the benefits that come with it, including reduced turnover and flu contagion as well as increased productivity. Those employer perks, according to the IWPR, are estimated to provide $6 million in projected net savings a year for Chicago employers.
"This will actually help not only workers, it will help employers as well," Josephs said. "You don't want your workers coming to work sick and infecting other co-workers or the public, and it's good for the economy."