There’s a reason Duluth was chosen as the location to kickoff the “Minnesota Benefits” campaign. The Duluth-Proctor-Hermantown metropolitan area ranks as the worst place in Minnesota for workers having access to paid sick time leave.
Southern St. Louis County is the worst in the state on the issue.
So on Tuesday, a huge statewide coalition of labor, faith and community organizations kicked off “Minnesota Benefits” here.
“Minnesota Benefits” is a new campaign to pass earned sick and safe time guarantees for the over one million working Minnesotans who currently do not earn even one day of sick or safe time to care for themselves, their kids or a family member. Recent reports indicate that across the state, over 41% of workers lack access to paid sick time.
“Every Minnesotan who works part time, full time, or any time at all deserves to earn paid time off to care for their family,” said Dan McGrath of TakeAction Minnesota, a lead organization in the coalition, told a large gathering in the Depot Rotunda. He said those one million Minnesota workers are three times the number affected in the state’s recent minimum wage increase. He said the campaign will start the conversation of the need for quality jobs in the state. With two children, McGrath said he knows the need for sick time well.
“I’m lucky, I can take a day off work,” McGrath said.
For Tiffany McDonald it hasn’t been good. With four children and a husband working full time, she tried to juggle three part time jobs and had to make hard choices between her family and her jobs.
“I couldn’t get a day off to take my child to the doctor,” McDonald said. She was willing to lose that job rather than leave her child.
“It’s hard to be a good employee when you’re stressed out over your family,” she said. “A happy employee doesn’t need to worry about being a responsible parent or employee.”
Eric Goerdt is the owner of Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth. When he started his business, he was the only employee. After 17 years, he now has 25 employees.
“We offer sick time because it’s the right thing to do for our employees, our business, and public health,” Goerdt said. He said he recently had two employees who are roommates come down with the stomach flu. In other restaurants, employees go to work sick because they can’t afford to lose wages.
“It’s a public health issue then,” Goerdt said. “They get customers sick, and that’s not good for business. “It’s the right thing to do (to pay them to stay home) from a compassion point and a business point.”
The “Minnesota Benefits” campaign also addresses safe time, which in part is the use of sick time for safety from domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.
Candice Harshner, executive director of Duluth’s Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, said victims of domestic assault and stalking have medical, safety, and work planning needs that need to be addressed by legislation. It’s important that these women have employers who will offer options to getting their lives back and keeping their jobs and homes she said.
“We have a woman now who couldn’t leave her home because she was so traumatized,” Harshner said. She’s about to lose her job and her home.
“We want a work environment in Minnesota that recognizes the needs of these survivors,” Harshner said.
Last year Minnesota passed the Women’s Economic Security Act, which made some inroads into the gender pay and benefit gap. Many felt the legislation did not go far enough and they’ve been working on it since it passed. The Benefits campaign is their next step after paid sick leave didn’t make the cut in the final bill.
“The good news is that 70 percent of Minnesotans support it,” said state Senator Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “They don’t want sick people cooking or serving their food, taking care of their parents or their children at school. Sick people should stay at home in bed where they belong.”
The bill to see that it happens was introduced Monday at the Legislature. McGrath said 80% of Democrats, 70% of Independents, and 60% of Republicans support earned paid sick time.
State Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, is chief author in the Minnesota House. He told the Duluth audience that it’s odd that 41% of workers in the state don’t have the benefit, yet the issue has so much broad-based support. He first introduced the bill in 2007. He thinks this new coalition will carry the issue and said having organized labor involved is a critical member of the effort.
North East Area Labor Council President Alan Netland told the gathering it was “embarrassing” that the kick off campaign had to be held in Duluth because it’s the worst place in the state for paid sick leave.
“We work for the greater good like we did with the minimum wage” which was raised during the 2014 session, Netland said. “It’s a sad thing that the percentage [without paid leave] is that high. We need paid sick leave so workers don’t have to take their germs to workplace and so they can stay home and take care of their loved ones.”
The current legislation would base sick leave on hours worked and would kick in after 90 days. Part time workers would get one hour leave for every 30 hours worked.
Three states and 16 cities now offer earned paid sick leave. Lesch said don’t expect Congress to initiate any such legislation.
“States are the laboratories of democracy,” Lesch said, and if enough of them pass legislation maybe Congress will follow.
That’s currently how an increased minimum wage has played out. For the first time, there are more states – 29 – with a minimum wage higher than the federal $7.25 an hour.