Seventy-five Portlanders testified in support of earned sick time during a public hearing in Portland City Hall on January 31, 2013. Family Forward Oregon’s Executive Director Andrea Paluso was among them. Here’s what she had to say:
“Right now we are facing historic income and wealth inequality in our country. We have never seen a gap between the very rich and the very poor in this country like the one we are experiencing now. We are seeing job growth concentrated in low-wage service industries, and much less growth in others. And without very careful intervention soon, this problem will only continue to get worse.
A system built on this kind of inequality is not sustainable. It is not healthy. It is not economically or socially responsible. Portlanders care about sustainability. We have led the state and the nation as a ‘green’ city, with laws that reduce our environmental impact, that construct a walkable city with a vibrant urban core. These issues of economic sustainability are the next frontier in the sustainability movement.
Portland is a leader. We led passing protections against discrimination in the workplace for sexual orientation. The state followed. We led by passing smoke-free workplace standards. The state followed. In fact we have led the state and the nation in a variety of significant ways – and paid sick time is no different.
To the employers in the room I want to say that as an employer myself and the daughter and wife of small business owners I have a good sense about your concerns. If you don’t already offer paid sick time to employees in the way that will be required by this law there will be costs to bear. But research and experience in other cities show that when balanced with the benefits this investment triggers, the net result is a positive one. Employers here who offer paid sick time can tell you about improved employee retention, higher morale, a healthier workforce, and appreciative customers.
Our community will also see benefits. Again, research shows that low-wage workers will see increased job stability, that we will see reductions in health care spending, and that we will see a reduction in the spread of illness. And something very important to Family Forward Oregon and child advocates everywhere: we will see parents unafraid to stay home to care for their sick kids.
This is a modest proposal. More modest than other cities who have gone before us, and more modest than where we started in Portland. That is because this proposal was heavily informed by the experiences of other cities and by the feedback of employers and employees across the city.
Our local business leaders know that the success of their businesses are tied, closely, to the economic circumstances of the people who patronize them. Unlike the bigger corporate actors in our economy, these local business owners are linked to our community – the people who live, work, raise families, and play here. By passing this law we are establishing a reasonable community standard, whose time has come one which says: it is not acceptable that 84% of those in the top quartile of income earners have paid sick time while only 18% of our lowest paid workers do. One that says: come, do business in Portland, but do so while also treating the people who live and work in this city humanely. We know it’s possible for businesses to thrive when they focus on multiple bottom lines.
We are putting a stake in the ground saying that we are part of this historic effort for what will someday be a national standard on sick time – as it should be. That we are on the right side of history here. We are putting a stake in the ground to say that we will be part of the fight against income inequality. That we will lead again, as we have before, in creating a more sustainable, just economy.
And where we lead, others will follow.”