Ballot measure would require Denver businesses to provide paid sick days

Denver skyline

A municipal ballot initiative has been introduced that would require Denver employers to provide their employees with paid sick days.

Denver workers would receive up to nine days of sick leave each year. Smaller businesses with ten employees or less could cap the benefit at five sick days annually. The initiative is backed by the Campaign for a Healthy Denver, part of Family Values at Work. The ballot initiative is supported by a coalition of over 40 community organizations.

Erin Bennett, Colorado director for 9to5, part of the National Association of Working Women, is spearheading the campaign.

“We’ve tried to get this passed through the state legislature in the past, but it didn’t work. We began to think of alternative strategies and we decided to take it to a municipal level, a tactic that has worked for places like San Francisco and Milwaukee,” she said.

The Denver city clerk has approved the title and petition papers and the Campaign for Healthy Denver needs to collect 4000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot this November.

With 300,000 employed workers in Denver, in 2010 the average Denver employee worked about 35 hours a week according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the campaign, nearly 100,000 employees in Denver lack paid sick days.

“This is a really important issue because 40 percent of Denver workers don’t have access to paid sick days, which means many people have to choose between taking care of themselves or going to work.” Bennett said. She also said that this is a public health issue, especially for members of the service industry.

“The numbers of those without sick days in the service industry is as high as 70 percent, a number which is really alarming, for a group of people who work with food.” Bennett said.

There are about a dozen small and medium sized businesses that have joined in support of the initiative. Bennett says that this early in the campaign they have met little opposition.

Denver Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Kate Horle was cautious when speaking of the initiative. Though it has not released any statement for, or against it, the Chamber has reservations. Horle said that she had not read the initiative yet, and much of the organization’s opinion would depend on the language.

“In this economy we’re really focused on getting people back to work and this mandate could challenge that.” She said.

“When companies can develop their own benefit plan it helps create a competitive edge that a lot of workers are looking for.” Horle said she thinks that it is important that regardless of the success of this measure, employers invest in human capital to help build up Denver’s economy.

“I think this is important not just for public safety, but it’s also for job protection” Said Bennett.

Similar measures recently were signed into law in Connecticut and already exist in cities like Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

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