Denver sick leave measure loses big

Denver’s Initiative 300, which would have required all businesses in Denver to provide paid sick leave to employees lost big tonight, with a margin approaching 2-1.

Early polls showed the sick leave measure winning, but Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and a majority of the Denver City Council urged no votes and opponents raised nearly twice the money supporters raised during a campaign that quickly became ugly.

From a press release issued by opponents to the measure, Keep Denver Competitive:

Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Michael Hancock, a majority of city council members, the state’s leading business and employer organizations and hundreds of small, family-owned businesses, voters understood Initiative 300 was flawed and would have hurt Denver’s smallest businesses the most.

“Mayor Hancock has proven that his support for small businesses goes far beyond lip service,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “He showed courage and leadership critical to protecting Denver’s economy in this difficult time. Mayor Hancock’s commitment to making Denver the small- and start up-business capitol of the nation was clear during this effort to protect our economy on this campaign.”

Initiative 300 lacked real exemptions for local small businesses. In fact, the measure would have forced a business with 10 employees in Denver to provide the same benefits that a similar measure in Seattle requires of businesses with 250 employees. The initiative had no requirements for notice and mandated a mountain of paperwork for even the smallest local shops. Those draconian rules led opposition from small business groups like the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver, the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Mile High Business Alliance.

“This election is a victory for small businesses and for our local economy,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Denver voters weren’t misled by these out-of-state interests. We truly appreciate the leadership of Mayor Hancock and many of Denver’s city council members for helping us get the facts in front of voters.”

“Our local leaders have put a priority on Denver’s ability to attract, grow and retain jobs in our community,” Keep Denver Competitive campaign manager Roger Sherman said. “This initiative may have been well intended, but our small businesses and local leaders were clear that 300 would cost jobs for working families in Denver.”

“We truly appreciate Denver voters for rejecting the false and negative attacks on restaurants, and voting against this job-killing proposal,” said Pete Meersman, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “Thank you on behalf of your neighborhood restaurants.”

Erin Bennett, spokesperson for the Campaign for a Healthy Denver issued this statement:

“The people of Denver lost today – people like home health care nurse Patricia Hughes who was fired after calling in sick with pneumonia; Mandie Freyta, a Latina mother who lost a week’s wages because she stayed home with her four children when they had the flu; and people like barista Laura Baker and bartender Eric Love, who have gone to work sick because they need to work every hour they can just to make the rent.

“The people of Denver were unable to overcome the money and power of big business interests from the National Restaurant Association and other lobbyist groups who are part of a larger national corporate agenda designed to stop paid sick days, increases in minimum wages, overtime pay, protections for the public from second-hand smoke, lower legal blood alcohol levels and accommodations for people with disabilities. The industry-backed campaign committees, Keep Denver Competitive and the Hospitality Industry PAC, spent over $837,000 to defeat I-300.

“Big business lobbyists cried wolf about the consequences of paid sick laws for small businesses – despite the real world growth in large and small businesses in San Francisco in the four years they have operated under a paid sick days law.

“Counter to the opposition’s claims, paid sick days are the right solution at exactly the right time. History tells us when people are hurting the most, it is exactly the right time for government to step up efforts to protect and promote the welfare of its citizens. It was during the Great Depression that a wave of wage and workplace reforms was enacted. In these troubled times – when Americans are having a hard time finding work, holding on to their homes and feeding their children – government and businesses should not be making it harder to keep a job or be a good parent.

“Though 300 did not pass, significant progress was made moving the issue forward in Denver. The Campaign for a Healthy Denver coalition – made up of more than 160 community, public health and faith groups, advocates for women, children and seniors, unions and their members, business owners, and elected officials – was able to educate the public about the importance of paid sick days for the public’s health, and for the health of working families. And many of the voters in this election joined with us.

“As a result of this campaign, the people of Denver learned they are not alone, that thousands of their neighbors and co-workers struggle with this same tug of war between work and family responsibilities. Only a community acting together on its shared values can fix this problem.

“That’s why there’s momentum behind this effort in Denver and nationally – why there have been major victories in Connecticut, Philadelphia and Seattle this year – and dozens of other cities and states are engaged right now in building support for paid sick days. The Campaign for a Healthy Denver stands committed to continuing the fight to improve the public health of our community and the lives of working families in our city. We plan to reach out to our supporters and talk with them about how best to move forward for a healthy Denver.”

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.