By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — Senate Bill 454 would implement a statewide sick leave policy for Oregon businesses, meaning employees would accrue an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked.

Chief sponsors: Sens. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton; Reps. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene and Jessica Vega Pederson, D-Portland.

History: Democratic lawmakers and unions say as many as 47 percent of private sector employees have no access to paid time off for sick days. They say these employees are often low-income workers who have to choose between working sick or smaller paychecks if the benefit isn’t offered at their workplace.

What’s next: Scheduled for a vote in a joint budget committee Monday.

Read the bill online here: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2015R1/Measures/Overview/SB454

SALEM — A bill that would require Oregon employers to offer paid sick time to their employees is still alive and making its way through the Legislature.

The latest draft of Senate Bill 454 would allow workers at businesses with 10 or more employees to accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees may carry over up to 40 hours of sick time from one year to the next, but the bill does not require they get paid for unused sick time if they leave the job. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees would follow the same rate but be allowed to offer unpaid leave.

Democrats have long offered the bill as a priority that would help workers they say are forced to choose between going to work while they or a family member are ill or staying home and giving up pay. They say many of the employees who have no paid sick time — 47 percent by some estimates — are low-income workers who can least afford unpaid time off.

“We don’t see this as just a benefit, having access to paid sick time. We see it as a basic labor standard and a public health standard,” said Andrea Paluso, executive director of the group Family Forward Oregon.

SB 454 had a hearing Thursday in a joint budget committee and is on its way to a likely vote in committee Monday despite opposition from some businesses that fear the mandate would add costs.

The bill is being heralded by 20 Democrats, many of whom spoke about the idea during the last election. Two Democrats, Sen. Michael Dembrow, of Portland, and Rep. Paul Holvey, of Eugene, have worked with businesses to change the bill and get it into a passable form.

The Legislature took up a similar measure in 2013 before it died in committee.

It’s facing similar pushback this year from businesses and Republicans who say the impacts of offering paid sick leave would be huge.

Mike Nesbitt, president of the Papa’s Pizza chain, said Oregon employers would look for ways to cut part-time employees and give their duties to other workers who would be eligible for paid sick time.

“These are the people a one-size-fits-all mandatory sick leave law will hurt, and the Democratic majority seems incapable of understanding this,” Nesbitt said in written testimony he gave to lawmakers Thursday.

Republican Sen. Chuck Thomsen, a Hood River pear farmer, said he’s worried the protections for agricultural businesses aren’t strong enough, a concern echoed by fellow Republicans.

Thomsen said his farm and others rely heavily on seasonal employees who follow crop harvests around the state for work. He said it would be difficult to track when those employees work for his farm and are accruing time off.

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, agrees with Thomsen and Nesbitt’s concerns, saying he supports paid sick leave policies in the private sector but not statewide policies that might not fit all kinds of businesses.

“It’s nearly impossible to track with seasonal workers and with agricultural workers,” Knopp said. “It’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to implement.”

Jeff Anderson, secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555, called a statewide policy a “noncompetitive disadvantage” that all businesses would have to abide by.

“The reality is people go to work sick today,” Anderson said. “They’re the ones serving you in the delis and the fish butcher blocks.”

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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