• David Reamer - Pine State
  • Flu-free.
Some of Portland's tastiest restaurants are backing a plan that would require all local businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz announced the details of her proposal this week (coincidentally, right in the midst of flu hysteria season).

Labor unions rallied at city hall last fall to pressure city council to pass the plan, which mimics a proposal Seattle approved last year.

Under the sick leave plan(PDF), Portland businesses with at least six employees would have to provide workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work, equalling out to about eight days five days of paid sick leave annually for a full-time worker [edit: There's a rule in the proposal that caps minimum time accrued at five days annually]. The proposal would cover everyone who works for a company within Portland city limits for over 240 hours a year, but would not cover independent contractors (like, for example, most strippers). It would allow workers to take time off if they're sick or if they're caring for a sick family member.

City stats show that about 40 percent of workers in the Portland have no paid sick leave. Sick leave is not doled out equally to all workers in the city; Latino residents are far less likely to have paid sick leave than other workers and the number of workers with sick leave varies greatly by industry.

But the biggest industry this would impact is restaurants—80 percent of Portland food workers have no paid sick leave. That's typical nationwide. A national restaurant workers' group publishes this guide to chain restaurants' staff policies, including whether or not they have paid sick leave (In N Out Burger: Yes. Arby's: No).

Owners of Portland restaurants Pine State Biscuits, Grain and Gristle, Por Que No, and Mekong Bistro signed a letter of support for the plan. "A lack of paid sick days is not good for the people we depend on to bring our culinary visions to the customer's tables (free of germs)," says the letter (PDF). "Providing paid sick days does not conform to our industry's 'standard,' which is why it's the perfect opportunity for Portland's restaurant industry. If we all take this step forward, together, we'll all be better off."

Por Que No owner Bryan Steelman spelled out for me how his restaurant's sick day policy works: All workers accrue three paid days off a year, which can be used for personal time or sick leave. Steelman says the policy doesn't save money for the taqueria outright, but, "I think that employee benefits give employees more confidence and self-worth, which creates a stronger community at work." Steelman adds that he's supportive of a requiring paid sick days for businesses, but does not necessarily think it's a good idea to require businesses with over six employees to provide sick leave at the same rate as much larger companies.

Update 4:40 PM: One issue is whether this gets through a city council that has some members searching for a state solution first. Mayor Charlie Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says: "The mayor is in favor of doing what we can for working families. While he prefers a statewide option, he is pleased with ongoing stakeholder outreach. Still, first and foremost, it’s an issue for the Legislature. If the state doesn’t act, he wants the City Council to take up this issue."