TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Wednesday night was the first of three open meetings to discuss a proposal that would mandate all Tucson employers to offer employees paid sick time they earn.
Ward 1 councilmember Regina Romero put the proposal in front of Mayor and Council on December 8th. They voted to study it. According to the draft proposal, 50 percent of private workers in Tucson do not have access to paid sick time for personal or family health needs.
Under the proposal, employees would earn their sick time. For every 30 hours worked, the would earn one hour of sick time which includes all employees, full-time, part-time, and temporary.
Romero says since the recession, the economy has gotten better in Tucson for corporations, but not for working families. She says mandating paid sick time for businesses operating in Tucson would actually help the economy.
"Paid sick is something that will help businesses be much more productive, have more loyal employees, and pay less in training and turnover," said Romero.
She added, the poorer people are, the less access to paid sick they have. For example, Romero says 82 percent of Tucsonans making $15,000 per year or less do not have access to paid sick time.
Kathy Ortega spoke at Wednesday's meeting in favor of sick time. She works for McDonald's in Tucson and does not currently get any.
"It's very hard when you don't have sick days," said Ortega.
For instance, Ortega says if her kids were sick and could not go to school, she would have to call for a replacement at work but if she could not find one then she had a decision to make: not show up at all and risk being reprimanded, or leave her kids home alone.
On the other hand, the business community was almost unanimous at the meeting opposing such a proposal.
Robert Medler, from the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, says almost every business they spoke to said "no" to the proposal.
"They think it's a gross intrusion of the employer and employee, they think it should be at the local or federal and state level not at a local municipal level," said Medler.
Representatives from specific industries like restaurants or construction voiced their opposition.
Lea Marquez-Peterson, President of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, says most of the businesses she represents were against the proposal.
"A lot of our members already provide paid sick leave, but just a concern that the mayor and council were getting involved in the daily operations of the business," said Peterson.
Many small business representatives at the meeting said the proposal could end up costing small businesses too much because profit margins are small. They say an increase in costs because of paid sick time could cause some businesses to go out of business.
Business representatives also expressed concern for the future of the business climate in Tucson. They say the city already has the stigma of being unfriendly to business. Medler says if the proposal goes through, businesses they represent are prepared to leave Tucson when their leases are up in favor of locations in unincorporated Pima County, Oro Valley, or Marana.
Romero says the proposal is not intended to hurt small businesses, but help the community and working poor. She says the discussions are intended to help create a plan that works for Tucson.
There are two more meetings that are open to the public. They are Jan. 21 at the Ward 6 Office (3202 E. 1st St.) and Jan. 28 at the Ward 2 Office (7575 E. Speedway Blvd.) from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.