L.A. workers would get 6 paid sick days under new proposal

Workers in Los Angeles could get at least six paid sick days annually under a proposal backed by a committee of city lawmakers Tuesday -- twice as much as the California state minimum.

Labor and community activists heralded the move as a victory for workers and families, allowing many Angelenos to take more time off if they fall ill or have to take care of an ailing child or loved one.

“Forcing workers to choose between their families’ health and paying bills is not fair -- and it’s no way for anyone to live,” said Isela Castro, a parent leader with Green Dot Public Schools.

But some business groups warned the plan would impose new costs on Los Angeles companies at the same time that they are required to start hiking wages for their workers. In July, the required minimum wage for larger L.A. businesses will jump to $10.50 -- the first in a series of hikes to reach $15 in four years.

“We simply cannot risk another additional burden on local businesses,” said Alex Davis, legislative affairs manager for the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn.

However, the new proposal does not require businesses to provide as much paid time off as earlier L.A. requirements imposed on big hotels and city contractors, which mandated a dozen days off for sick leave and other needs. And the city has not revived another labor-backed proposal, staunchly opposed by business groups, to allow unionized businesses to waive the L.A. wage rules.

City Councilman Curren Price, who backed the new plan, said the city had sought to “balance the interest of the business community with employees.”

“It doesn’t do an employee good to receive a higher wage only to risk being fired because they have to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one,” Price said.

The proposal now heads to the entire City Council for a vote.

If Los Angeles presses forward, it would join more than two dozen other cities and counties nationwide that have mandated that employers provide a minimum amount of paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families, which tracks legislation across the country.

"What L.A. does right now is really being looked at -- it's a lead city that people will copy," said Jenya Cassidy, director of the California Work & Family Coalition, which advocates for family-friendly laws.

City leaders decided last year to gradually hike the minimum wage across Los Angeles, but held off on deciding whether the city should also impose new requirements for sick days or other paid time off.

California now requires employers to provide at least three days of paid sick leave annually, but some California cities -- including San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica -- have passed stricter rules affording workers as many as nine days off.

The Raise the Wage Coalition, which backed the minimum wage increase, had pressed for Los Angeles to insist on more sick days along with the citywide wage boost.

Last year, at a hearing on the minimum wage plan, Price said L.A.’s wage ordinance should offer paid time off “consistent” with earlier city rules. At the time, Price did not spell out how many sick days should be required, but L.A. already had required city contractors and big hotels to provide at least 12 paid days off for sick leave, vacation or other personal needs.

But L.A. lawmakers ended up stripping language requiring sick leave out of their minimum wage plan after Mayor Eric Garcetti raised concerns that it hadn't been thoroughly studied. Business groups also contended that sick leave had been abruptly added to the wage plan with scant discussion.

The new proposal is modeled on the California state law: Under the plan, Los Angeles workers can accrue an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours they work, the same rate as under the state rules.

In Los Angeles, however, workers would be entitled to take at least six days of paid sick leave annually, rather than three. Much like under the California law, employers could also offer those sick days upfront, rather than by allowing employees to accrue them over time.

Workers in L.A. would not be paid for unused sick days, but accrued time could be carried over to the next year. Employers could cap that accrued time at 72 hours, or set a higher cap or none at all.

Several industry groups, including the California Grocers Assn. and the California Restaurant Assn., argued that businesses were already trying to adjust to the California sick leave law that went into effect last July and shouldn’t face added city requirements. 

Paying for more than three sick days “is really more than they can absorb at this time,” said Adena Tessler, a spokeswoman representing the restaurant association.

Workers and community activists countered that without more guaranteed sick days, employees would end up going back to work when they were still ill, putting customers and co-workers at risk.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said a lack of sick days also fueled truancy, since parents who couldn’t take a day off to care for an ailing child might resort to keeping another child home to care for them.

At the Tuesday hearing, L.A. lawmakers did not weigh in on another controversial question that came up and was tabled during the minimum wage debate last year -- whether unions should be able to waive the minimum wage requirements at the bargaining table.

Labor leaders had argued that unionized workers should be able to negotiate and agree to a lower wage in return for other benefits, such as healthcare coverage. Critics in the business community and beyond countered that the exemption was meant to pressure employers to unionize to dodge higher costs.

After a public backlash last year, city lawmakers shelved the idea, pressing forward with a minimum wage ordinance that did not include the disputed provision. So far, the proposal has not been revived.

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall.

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