Paid sick leave proposal splits restaurant owners, staff
Political Reporter, KDVR-Channel 31
DENVER – The most controversial ordinance on this year's municipal ballot, an initiative that would force most businesses to give employees nine days of annual paid sick leave, is dividing the city's restaurant industry, pitting most of the servers and cooks against the employers who sign their paychecks.
And as many restaurant owners gathered Monday morning to voice their opposition to Initiative 300, the Bell Policy Center, a liberal think tank, released a study concluding that the business community's concerns are overblown.
"We are convinced a paid sick leave law will greatly benefit workers and their families as well as overall public health," said Wade Buchanan, Bell's president, in a press release. "And we are confident it can be implemented with little harm to businesses."
But many restaurant owners, who rallied in Skyline Park Monday morning, implored voters to look deeper and to realize that they should be allowed to run their businesses how they – not those at City Hall – see fit.
"I do believe in the values that are behind this initiative," said Stephanie Bonin, the owner of Duo and Olivea, two popular high-end Denver restaurants. "What I don't believe in are the unintended consequences that will hurt our small businesses."
Under the proposal, businesses with more than 10 employees would be forced to pay full-time employees for nine sick days a year. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees, would have to pay up to five sick days a year.
Steve Ballas, who owns Steve's Snappin' Dogs, a small shop on Colfax with about 15 employees, is worried that employees could abuse the ordinance by taking ski days instead of showing up to work.
"There's no accountability written into this law," Ballas said.
But a waiter named Joel, who works at a well-known Denver restaurant, said workers aren't likely to abuse the law.
"I'm still losing money by staying home, because most of my money comes from tips," Joel said. "I'd only be getting paid minimum wage when I'm sick. But at least it's a modicum of something, the wherewithal to support the people I support, to help pay my bills."
According to Joel, who wouldn't give his last name because he knows his boss is adamantly opposed to the measure, most servers, bartenders, bussers and cooks support the Initiative but are afraid to say so publicly.
"I can't tell you how many times someone comes in with a little tickle in their throat, and then within a week, there's three other people calling out," Joel said. "It's a very simple economic fact. If I stay at home, I don't get paid, I don't make money.
"You should never have to choose between your health, and the health of your employers and your employees and your customers – and keeping your job."
Mayor Michael Hancock and a majority of the city council oppose the measure, which would cost the city $750,000 annually to implement and oversee.
And businessowners, holding signs that read: "The wrong solution ... at the worst possible time," argued that the well-intended initiative will stifle businesses and an already fragile economy.
"It's a mandate many of us can't afford," Bonin said. "And it comes just as we're trying to recover from a lousy economy."
The Bell Policy Center analysis, however, comes to a different conclusion, based on what's happened in cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., where paid sick leave laws have already been passed and implemented.
"The data suggest that the direct costs to businesses of a paid-sick-leave law are relatively small and that they are mitigated in whole or in part by indirect savings due to increased worker productivity and lower employee turnover," the study concludes.
"The data also strongly support the argument that paid sick leave results in improved public health and reduced overall costs to the health care system."