Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Family Forward director Andrea Paluso smile before posing for an iPhone photo snapped by Commissioner Nick Fish.
  • Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Family Forward director Andrea Paluso smile before posing for an iPhone photo snapped by Commissioner Nick Fish.
After a lengthy hearing last week—and several glowing comments from city commissioners—it was a foregone conclusion that Commissioner Amanda Fritz's first-in-Oregon plan for paid sick leave would win approval this morning.

And, as expected, the vote was unanimous—giving way to an eruption of applause and then, after the Portland City Council adjourned a few seconds later, a lot of glad-handing between advocates and city officials.

Starting next year, and provided the Oregon Legislature doesn't pass statewide standards first, most of the 40 percent of workers in Portland who don't qualify for sick time will be able to earn up to a week of it. And workers at all but the smallest businesses will also be paid for that time off.

"This was about the longest I thought it would take," Fritz told me afterward, reflecting on a proposal first fanned by community activists in meetings early last year and then first broached by Fritz in October.

She shelved it until new Mayor Charlie Hales took over this year and then waited several weeks while a task force made up of supporters—and detractors, from high-level business lobbying groups—polished the particulars of a policy that always had at least the three votes it needed to pass. The only drama was whether it would be unanimous—and even that drama receded fairly quickly after Commissioner Dan Saltzman proposed the task force and Hales blessed it.

"That was one of those moments when we made Portland a better place," Hales said, giving the last word on the proposal at the meeting.

Business groups remain unconvinced. The Portland Business Alliance, Venture Portland, the Northwest Grocery Association, and the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association were all part of the task force that worked on the bill. But each sent lobbyists last week to complain about a rushed process and warn about dire consequences if it passed, including layoffs and an exodus of businesses.

"It is an imperfect ordinance that adversely impacts small business," Megan Doern of the Portland Business Alliance told the Oregonian in a story posted earlier today. "We're concerned about companies that offer robust sick leave or leave benefits and the amount of record keeping and the lack of protection in the current ordinance."

Three other cities—Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, DC—already offer sick leave. And htose policies served as models for Portland. To qualify for earned leave, a worker will have to work at least 240 hours a year in Portland, and wait 90 days after starting a job. Companies that already have sick time policies as good as the city's, or better, also won't be required to overhaul their record-keeping and accounting procedures to comply with the minutiae of the new rules.

Commissioner Steve Novick offered critics a fairly pointed riposte—also noting that Singapore, a bastion of capitalism, also has a policy.

"This is not an extreme left wing idea," he said. "This is a matter of whether or not we're going to live in a civilized society."