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City Council panel backs expansion of paid leave for Chicago workers

City Council panel backs expansion of paid leave for Chicago workers
City Council panel backs expansion of paid leave for Chicago workers 01:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A key City Council committee on Thursday endorsed a proposal to provide all workers in Chicago with up to 10 paid days off a year, setting up a final City Council vote next week, despite continued objections from many business groups.

The Workforce Development Committee approved the expansion of paid time off for Chicago workers by a 13-2 vote, after sponsors made some concessions designed to help small businesses, but were unable to reach a broader compromise with many business industry groups, including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), who chairs the Workforce Committee and sponsored the ordinance, called the measure "the most progressive paid leave policy in the United States of America."

"This policy will be good for both workers and their employers," he said.

However, the business coalition that had been trying to negotiate a compromise that they could support it said the ordinance "cements Chicago's status as a hostile place to do business."

"Once again, proponents failed to recognize the compounding effect these policies have on businesses that are already struggling to make ends meet due to an alarming number of anti-business proposals by the City, continued supply chain and labor challenges, persistent crime, and skyrocketing property taxes," the coalition said in a statement.

The Workforce Committee approved the ordinance after sponsors agreed to concessions to ease the burden the paid leave requirements would place on smaller businesses.

The compromise would require employers to provide up to 5 paid days of sick leave and 5 paid days off for any reason, starting Dec. 31. Workers would earn 1 hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked.

Workers would be required to give employers 7 days' notice of for sick leave if the need is foreseeable, and if an employee used sick days on three consecutive days, employers could require documentation from a doctor.

Employers also would have to set up a written pre-approval policy for paid time off requests, but could not require employees to provide a reason for a request for time off.

Originally, supporters of the expanded paid leave ordinance had proposed an even more sweeping plan that would have allowed workers to earn one hour of paid time off for any reason for every 15 hours worked, with no cap on how much time they could earn in a given year. For a full-time worker who averages 40 hours a week, that would have meant at least 16 days of paid time off a year.

But after weeks of negotiations with various business groups, the city's labor unions and other supporters of expanded paid leave agreed to scale back their proposal to allow for workers to earn up to six days of paid sick leave and six days of paid time off for any reason per year.

Even that proposal ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from business leaders, since it would have required employers to reimburse workers for any paid time off when they leave the job. After last-minute negotiations over the past two days, sponsors agreed to a concession allowing limiting payouts for unpaid time off for small businesses.

Employers would not be required to pay out for any workers' unused sick leave when they leave the job. As for other paid time off, small employers with 50 or fewer workers would not have to pay out unused paid time off, and employers with 51 to 100 workers would have to pay out up to two days of unused paid time off in 2024, and all unused paid time off starting in 2025. Employers with more than 100 workers would have to pay out any unused paid time off when employers leave the job as soon as the ordinance goes into effect on Dec. 31.

However, most business groups in Chicago have opposed requiring employers to pay out employees for any unused sick days, noting no other cities or states require such payouts as part of paid leave requirements.

Another concession sponsors agreed to was to delay workers' right to sue employers for failing to comply with the new regulations. Supporters said that would give employers more time to understand the rules, but business groups had unsuccessfully fought to give employers a required grace period during which workers and their bosses could try to resolve any disputes, or to seek to have city officials mediate a dispute, before workers could sue. Sponsors of the ordinance said workers and their employers always have the option of trying to resolve such disputes internally before a worker resorts to a lawsuit.

Adrian Rodriguez, director of policy for the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said while the group appreciates exempting businesses with 50 or fewer workers from paying out for unused paid time off, they still do not support the plan, because employees would be given the right to file private lawsuits over disputes about pay.

Brad Tietz, vice president of government relations for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce argued that any employment law that gives workers the right to sue over violations ends up being abused by trial attorneys.

"A small business will have trouble complying with it, and then bam you've got a lawsuit," he said. "We've seen this in many different employment laws; city, county, and state."

The business coalition said, even with the concessions included in the revised ordinance, "aldermen [are] now set to vote on a policy that will devastate the very businesses they have been trying to attract to their communities."

The full City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance on Tuesday.  

Chicago already requires all employers provide up to five days of paid sick leave to all employees. Starting Jan. 1, a new state law will allow workers outside of Chicago to earn up to five days of paid time off for any reason. Chicago was exempted from that law because it already had a paid sick leave requirement.

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