L.A. City Council Backtracks on Secretive Sick Time Plan

Herb Wesson, City Council president
Herb Wesson, City Council president

The L.A. City Council is backtracking on a proposal to include 12 days of mandatory sick pay in its ordinance establishing a $15 minimum wage, after business leaders protested that the provision was secretly inserted at the last minute.

In a press release this afternoon, council president Herb Wesson and two colleagues defended the sick-pay policy but agreed to give it more study. They vowed to enact a citywide sick-pay policy by the end of the year.

The council's Economic Development Committee voted Wednesday to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Councilman Curren Price, who chairs the committee, also mentioned that the city would enact a paid-time-off policy "consistent with previous city wage policies." This detail went unnoticed until Thursday, when business leaders realized that Price intended to require all employers to provide 12 days of sick pay.

State law requires just three days. Business leaders protested that the sick-pay policy had not been properly disclosed in public — let alone studied or debated. Mayor Eric Garcetti also weighed in, saying the issue needed further study.

"This may happen in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., but it should never happen in Los Angeles,” said Gary Toebben, president of the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “For business, this action creates a lack of trust in the City Council.”

In response, Wesson, Price and Councilman Paul Krekorian issued a statement agreeing to back off the provision for the time being. The council members defended the policy, though, citing PTO policies in Oakland and San Francisco for support.

"While the state law on sick leave is well-intentioned, it is inadequate for working Angelenos, and I’m collaborating with my colleagues to put a city policy on the books," Wesson said in the statement.

The council members also defended the process, saying the original proposal followed eight months of study, deliberation and public testimony.

Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, greeted the council's change of heart with wary optimism.

“The council appears to have realized that you can’t just sneak in such a significant paid-time-off provision at the last minute," Waldman said in a statement. "We’re cautiously optimistic that they will devote the due time to receive public comment and that they will thoroughly study the effects that a required 12 days of paid time off per year will have on employers in the city."

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The last-minute inclusion of paid sick leave mirrored the process during last year's debate over the living-wage ordinance for downtown hotel workers. According to Jimmy Blackman, a lobbyist for the Hotel Association of Los Angeles, the debate over that ordinance focused almost exclusively on the wage rate, which ended up at $15.37.

When Price's committee directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance, there was no mention of paid time off. But when the ordinance came back, it included a provision for 12 days of paid leave and a cap on accrued time of 24 days.

"That was never discussed," Blackman says. "I'm not sure how that got in there."

Price then used the language in the hotel ordinance as a precedent for the citywide policy. So this appears to be the second time that his committee has slipped PTO into an ordinance without public discussion.

The hotel policy is significantly more generous than the citywide policies in Oakland and San Francisco. In both cities, workers accrue one hour of PTO for every 30 hours worked, or about eight days a year for a full-time worker. Small businesses are allowed to cap accrued time at five days, and large businesses may cap it at nine days.

The full council is expected to discuss the minimum-wage proposal next week.


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