It's official. The Los Angeles City Council is incapable of operating in an open and transparent manner. Last week, even as members of the council's Economic Development Committee were praising themselves for commissioning studies, holding hearings and fostering a robust debate over the plan to establish the city's first-ever minimum wage, they were quietly slipping in a requirement that employers provide workers as many as 12 days of unpaid time off per year.
This paid-leave component was not studied in any of the four reports analyzing the proposed minimum wage and was not part of the debate. It was mentioned in the most oblique fashion in the last minutes of a three-hour meeting Wednesday when the committee signed off on the minimum wage proposal. Chairman Curren Price — reading from a prepared statement — said the proposed ordinance should include paid time off “consistent with previous city wage policies.” Those policies, which include the living wage for contractors and the minimum wage for hotel workers adopted last year, require that employers offer 96 hours of paid time off for sick days, vacation or other personal needs. By comparison, a new state law mandates three paid sick days a year.
Price's comment was so vague that lobbyists for the business community who were in the audience didn't realize paid leave was being added to the minimum wage proposal. Even some council members appeared surprised by the 11th-hour addition. Councilman Paul Krekorian was the lone committee member to publicly call for more discussion before the final council vote. Mayor Eric Garcetti criticized the inclusion, and on Friday, Price and Council President Herb Wesson announced they would hold off voting on the paid-leave policy until there was more discussion and analysis. That was the right decision.
This attempt to insert a paid-leave requirement is exactly the kind of backroom dealing that council leaders pledged to avoid after they were criticized for rushing the hotel worker minimum wage ordinance and ignoring a city-commissioned analysis of the impacts. Months ago, Wesson promised a “methodical process.” Price said he had given the public an “unprecedented amount of input.” And he had led an open and thoughtful debate until last week, when he reverted to secrecy and obfuscation.
Paid leave is an important public policy issue, and sick time can be as essential for workers' well-being as higher pay. But such a significant and costly change for employers should be vetted and debated publicly, not snuck in at the last minute.