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Duluthians rally for earned sick and safe time

Cherise Payton speaks at a rally in support of a city ordinance on earned sick and safe (ESST). The signs thank local businesses that support ESST. (Photo by Richard Thomas)

 Supporters of earned sick and safe time (ESST) rallied in Central Hillside on Monday, April 10.

Duluth resident Cherise Payton told how the lack of sick time affected her when her children were ill. "I got fired because I didn't have enough time to take off and take care of my son," she said. "I shouldn't have to choose between my rent, food, medications or anything else in order to take care of my kids. If I miss a day or two from work, I'm considered a two-strike person. If I have to miss another day I don't get paid, my kids suffer, my bills suffer, so for me, earned sick and safe time can save our lives."

She also spoke about people who go to work sick because they have to and risk spreading disease, especially if they work in the food service industry.

The rally was organized by Vision Duluth, a coalition that requested city council to create the Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force. Last July Duluth City Council voted to create the 11-member task force, consisting of people representing business and workers, to study how the city can ensure workers have paid safe and sick time.

Advocates of ESST want the city to require businesses to provide workers paid days when they are absent due to illness or safety issues such as domestic violence. Critics say such a mandate could create a hardship on businesses, especially struggling ones, and encourages them to move elsewhere.

Currently seven states and 32 other jurisdictions have passed laws requiring employers to provide workers paid sick days. Last year the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils passed such ordinances.

The rally preceded a listening session hosted by the city task force. "Deb" told about how on April 1 her daughter-in-law learned that her father in Texas was severely ill. The daughter used her mortgage payment to buy a plane ticket and she stayed with him until he died on April 7. She took more time off work to arrange the funeral and continued to lose wages from her two jobs.

Another resident, Abram, told about a friend with lupus who needs an infusion every month, which takes two hours. Since she doesn't have earned sick time, sometime in the two-week pay period she has to go back and make up the hours she missed.

According to Vision Duluth, 40 percent of Duluth workers, around 19,500 people, don't have paid sick time available. That figure climbs to 70 percent for service workers and 79 percent for part-time workers.

Republicans have introduced bills in the Minnesota Legislature to stop cities from enacting ESST locally, but the Duluth task force is still proceeding.

The listening session was the eighth of a series which began in February, sponsored by the City of Duluth. The final session is 7:30-10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 19 at the Sports Garden, 425 S. Lake Ave. Surveys for both employees and employers are available online and at the Duluth Public Libraries, Community Action Duluth and the Duluth Workforce Center.

More information can be found on the City of Duluth Sick and Safe Time Task Force website.