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Bills Spark Debate Over Paid Sick Time In Michigan

By Alanna Durkin, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) - Some Michigan Republicans are pushing to ban local governments from requiring employers to provide paid sick leave as cities in other states move to enact such mandates.

Legislation recently approved by committees in the Republican-controlled House and Senate would prohibit counties, townships and cities from adopting policies that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid leave not required under federal or state law.

Republican Rep. Earl Poleski of Jackson, who is sponsoring one of the bills, said paid sick leave mandates hurt businesses by raising administrative costs, putting them at a disadvantage to businesses in areas without such policies. But opponents say a lack of paid sick time unfairly forces workers to choose between their physical and financial health.

"Mothers have to make that decision of whether or not they are going to risk financial stability, be able to make rent or get everyone sick at work or send a sick child to school," said Danielle Atkinson, director of Mothering Justice, an advocacy group that opposes the bills.

More than 1.5 million Michigan workers -- or about 46 percent of the state's private sector workforce -- cannot take paid sick leave, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit group advocating for workplace fairness. Atkinson said service employees, such as retail and restaurant industry workers, often don't receive paid sick time.

But Poleski said employers, not local governments, should decide whether workers have paid sick time. He said he does not know of any Michigan cities currently considering such policies, but believes the state should put legislation in place now as policies have recently been passed in cities elsewhere in the U.S.

The New York City Council last week passed a measure to require businesses with 20 or more employees to provide five paid sick days a year beginning in April 2014. Businesses with 15 or more workers would have to do the same by October 2015 and all others would have to provide five unpaid sick days per year.

City councils in Portland and Philadelphia approved similar measures last month, while San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Connecticut already have earned sick time mandates in place.

Elsewhere, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in 2011 prohibiting local governments from passing ordinances guaranteeing workers paid sick and family leave, saying it would spur job growth. Similar measures have passed the Legislature in Indiana, said Justin Winslow, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, which supports the Michigan proposal.

But Atkinson said it's "ridiculous" that the Michigan Legislature thinks it knows what is better for the communities than the local governments. "This is the Michigan Restaurant Association and big business getting together to take away the voice of local citizens on this issue," she said.

Poleski said allowing cities to enact policies would create inconsistency across the state. He gave the example of a chain restaurant with a location in one city that does have paid sick leave and a location in a city that doesn't. "What happens when your employees move from one restaurant to the other?"

Tom Lenard, spokesman for Democratic Rep. Jim Ananich of Flint, said if Republicans are seeking a statewide solution, Ananich plans to reintroduce a measure that would mandate paid sick leave statewide. A similar measure last year never made it out of committee.

But Poleski said he would not support such a mandate.

"I tend to prefer to stay away from governmentally mandated business policies," he said.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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