Lawmakers will set up a work group to study Oregon rules

The movement to provide paid employee leave in Oregon now shifts back to Portland City Hall, after a bill for a statewide mandate failed to pass the 2013 Legislature.

When the Portland City Council unanimously adopted a city mandate for paid sick leave in March, implementation was delayed to put pressure on the Oregon Legislature to enact a statewide policy instead. Some employers testified against the city ordinance, saying a statewide policy would be easier to enforce and free them from having to comply with a patchwork of rules from city to city.

However, House Democratic leaders, during a second House Rules Committee hearing on House Bill 3390 last week, said they’ll create a work group to study the idea and bring forth an amended bill in 2014 or 2015. That was a clear signal the bill didn’t have the votes to pass this session.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz says she’s disappointed by the Legislature, “especially after the businesses told us the proper solution was a statewide one.” However, she added, “I am pleased that they are forming a work group. That’s a positive step.”

Fritz will pull together a task force to devise administrative rules to carry out the city ordinance adopted in March. That likely will include advocates of paid sick leave and employers, similar to an earlier task force that helped fine-tune the city ordinance that Fritz brought forward.

“My office will be taking the lead again,” says Fritz, who expects the group to work closely with the city attorney, and complete its work by September. That would give time to educate employers about the new requirements before the mandate takes effect in January.

Shaping city rules

An estimated 40 percent of private-sector employees in the Portland area lack paid sick leave, including a disproportionate share of lower-income and minority workers.

The city ordinance guarantees that workers can’t get fired for taking a day off sick. Employers with five or fewer workers would be required to provide unpaid sick leave. Employers with six or more workers would have to provide at least five days’ paid sick leave to full-time workers, though other paid leave policies could fit the bill.

The Portland Business Alliance, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association opposed the ordinance, arguing it will be too costly, lead to job losses and interfere with collective bargaining.

The city ordinance notes that the administrative rules, a set of regulations on how to carry out the measure, don’t need to be adopted by the full City Council, but become effective when approved by the city attorney.

Advocacy groups aren’t depicting the Legislature’s actions as a defeat for mandatory sick leave policies.

“This is the first time it was introduced, and we made great headway in a short period of time,” says Lisa Frack, communications director for Family Forward Oregon. “These kinds of things often don’t happen the first time they’re introduced.”

Advocates will focus on shepherding the city administrative rules through and working with the state task force, Frack says.

There’s little talk of other Oregon cities joining with Portland to adopt a citywide ordinance, as far as Frack is aware. Though she wouldn’t rule that out, that’s not the priority for advocates. “It’s not even clear if that’s the right direction to go,” she says.

Connecticut is the only state to adopt a paid sick leave mandate. The movement is gaining steam, though, in cities where progressive voters have the most clout. San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New York City also have passed paid sick leave ordinances. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed that city’s measure last week, but supporters say there are enough votes on the City Council to override the veto.

Advocates say about 600,000 workers in Oregon lack sick leave.

“We hope those workers without sick days — and anyone who supports this law — will make sure their legislators hear from them over the next few months,” says Andrea Paluso, executive director of Family Forward Oregon.

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