‘Flu with your fries’? Coalition seeks ballot initiative to require paid sick leave, says public health issue Denver Daily News Peter Marcus May 10, 2011 A coalition of advocates for paid sick leave announced yesterday a proposal for a Denver ballot initiative that would mandate that businesses provide paid leave. First reported by the Denver Daily News yesterday, the coalition made their plans public on Monday, announcing that the group will file paperwork with the city in an attempt to place the question on the November ballot. For many, the issue is a public health issue, noting that the risk of spreading illness is greater with sick employees working behind the counter. Laura Baker, a barista at a local Starbucks, says the company does not offer her paid sick leave. She says that puts others at risk because she is forced to go to work sick in order to make enough money to cover rent. “We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry, and yes, we sneeze,” Baker said yesterday on the 16th Street Mall, where proponents announced their plans and handed out campaign propaganda. “So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn’t afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu.” Starbucks said yesterday that it offers several ways for employees to take paid time off. Employees who work 20 or more hours per week have access to short-term disability that provides up to 26 weeks of income protection, and baristas accrue vacation time after 12 months on the job, and can use that paid leave for illness. Advocates will face a tough challenge from employers, who in the past have opposed such proposals. Lawmakers at the Capitol rejected similar proposals in 2009 and 2010 after the business community lobbied against the proposals. Mickki Langston, executive director of the Mile High Business Alliance, said the concern for a business goes beyond cost. She said the issue is also other burdens associated with the mandate, including filing additional paperwork, which cuts into productivity. Langston said most small businesses already provide their employees with paid sick leave. “Most small businesses are very connected to the needs of their employees and they know that their employees need to be taken care of for their businesses to work,” said Langston. “A lot of small businesses go above and beyond those kind of requirements to be able to take care of their employees.” Proponents, however, say nearly 40 percent of Denver employees don’t have paid sick leave. Seventy-two percent of Denver food service workers do not have paid sick days, according to proponents. Voters in Denver would be asked to approve a similar proposal rejected by the Legislature. Businesses would be required to provide one hour of sick leave per every 30 hours worked. Businesses with 10 or more employees would not have to offer more than 72 hours per year; businesses under 10 employees would not have to offer more than 40 hours per year. Qualifications would be for mental and physical conditions; family care; children facing a public health emergency; and incidents involving domestic abuse, sex assault and stalking, so long as the leave is directly connected to a requirement connected to the incident. Workers would be allowed to carry over a limited amount of sick leave. Proponents say Denver voters support the idea, pointing to a March survey commissioned by the coalition that suggests that 63 percent of Denver voters support the proposal. The coalition includes 9to5 National Association of Working Women, Colorado Progressive Coalition, and FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities. Proponents are approaching the issue similarly to a successful 2008 effort in Milwaukee. Proponents say they have a better chance at a municipal election than a statewide election. But even if Denver voters back the proposal, it is likely to face court challenges and resistance from state lawmakers. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill prohibiting local Wisconsin governments form approving sick leave mandates that exceed state requirements. The mandate backed by voters in Milwaukee also faced court challenges. The question for Denver voters must first go through a review and comment period with the City Council and city attorneys before proponents can begin collecting signatures to place the issue on the November ballot.