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Mandatory paid sick leave gets mixed reviews

A proposed hefty jump in the state's minimum wage may have fallen by the wayside in the Oregon Legislature this week, but other bills identified by trade groups and business associations as "job killers" remain in play.

A delegation from three Southern Oregon chambers of commerce met with local legislators and House and Senate leaders from both parties Thursday, hoping to influence pending legislation.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, told the business leaders he would not send a $15-minimum-wage bill to the floor this session, welcome news to their ears. But they and a coalition of agriculture, industry and small business groups oppose another 10 bills, including Senate Bill 454, which would implement mandatory paid sick leave.

The Senate Workforce Committee Thursday passed the bill by a 3-2 party-line vote, with Democrats in support, pushing it along to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

Jasper's Cafe owner John Lenz, who actively opposed the minimum-wage bill, likewise rallied resistance to SB 454. He noted that if an employee calls in sick, he still needs to have someone fill the shift, so he ends up paying two people.

"It's a double-paid sick leave to me, how do I cover that?" Lenz asked. 

Lenz acquired Jasper's nine years ago after a long stint selling residential real estate for ReMAX. He has 17 employees to cover 13 or 14 hours of restaurant activity in order to serve customers eight hours daily.

"It's not like I'm an evil owner," Lenz said. "If the labor laws go through ... you're going to cut people out, or you're going to raise prices. If you raise prices and the customers don't come in as much, then you're going to have to lay people off. Then you've raised prices and laid people off; it's not a pretty picture."

Ed Chun, a former Medford City Council member and owner of Sunrise Cafe on East Main Street, calculated his daily costs would have risen by $240 if the minimum-wage bill had gone through, forcing him to lay off his dishwasher and discontinue table service. But Chun said he could live with mandatory paid sick leave.

As it stands, the bill would enable employees to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, maxing out at 40 hours' leave annually. The sick time could be used for medical time off or to help family members.

"It's an equitable system," Chun said. "Everyone is earning what they are paid and getting another benefit. I can figure I'll be paying that out every year and I'd rather them be home taking care of the kid when they qualify for sick or personal time. That's the reality and I can absorb that part of it. It's an expense, but a manageable expense."

Bob Mayers, president of Adroit Construction in Ashland and chairman of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County board, said his office staff has sick leave, but the 80 to 90 field employees don't.

"If our company has to provide a week's sick-pay leave for every one of our carpenters, laborers and cement masons, it's going to have a huge effect on our costs and to our clients," Mayers said.

With an eye on the impact to small-business owners, Medford chamber CEO Brad Hicks told legislators during informal discussions that the mandate should be limited to companies with at least 10 employees.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/ Economic Edge.

Ed Chun, a former Medford City Council member and owner of Sunrise Cafe on East Main Street, said he could live with mandatory paid sick leave, a proposal now before the Oregon Legislature. Mail Tribune / file photo