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Using caution on sick and safe leave

While many know me as an advocate for our downtown business community, I wear many hats. I am a sounding board for ideas, an ally who learns some of the most confidential information and plans for growth and development, a guide to help through challenging times, a cheerleader and a friend. And, as a small business owner, I can relate to some of the challenges.

More than half of our members are small businesses with five or fewer employees. These are entrepreneurs who make up the distinct fabric of our community. Some of our larger employers compete at the national level and put Duluth in the spotlight. They are good people who continuously give back to our community.

That is why it is so important to have them at the table researching, discussing and talking about proposed paid earned sick and safe leave benefits for employees. I applaud councilors Zack Filipovich and Elissa Hansen for bringing forward a more balanced approach to this divisive issue in our community. Other cities have plowed forward and have voted to place this mandate on our businesses without first getting their input or considering the unintended consequences.

When I first mentioned to one of my members that a group was proposing the city mandate private businesses to provide sick and safe leave benefits for all employees, she stated that she only has a few part-time employees and she treats them like family. So if one has a sick child, of course she'll cover their shift and find a way for them to pick up additional hours. Another business owner shared how she has helped her employees by giving them rent money, furniture for their apartments, rides to and from work and food to eat.

These are not wealthy business owners with deep pockets. These are individuals who provide jobs in our community. They are trying to do the best they can for their business and their employees.

I have watched with concern as a few other communities have implemented sick and safe leave mandates on private businesses. In an ideal scenario, this would be done at a state or federal level to prevent a hodgepodge of municipal mandates. But that is not happening and now Duluth is facing the issue. What has worked in some communities will not work in Duluth, so we need to use caution and gather balanced information. While we all want what is best for our employees and our community, it is important to have all sides at the table sharing their input.

Kristi Stokes

Kristi Stokes is the president of the Greater Downtown Council in Duluth. Contact her at 727-8549.

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