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Duluth task force calls for sick/safe time input

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The debate over earned sick and safe time for city workers is leaving the boardroom and meeting the people.

A series of eight public input sessions begins Friday at noon at Duluth City Council chambers before subsequent sessions radiate out to other neighborhoods.

"We're going as far west as Morgan Park and as far east as Lakeside," said Angie Miller, one of 11 members on an Earned Sick and Safe Time task force. The task force was established by the city council last July for the purpose of making recommendations on how Duluth might best go about legislating paid safe and sick time to local workers.

The sessions run through April 19 and will be accompanied by online employer and employee surveys. Paper copies of the employee surveys will also be available at all of the Duluth Public Libraries, Community Action Duluth in Lincoln Park and the Duluth Workforce Center downtown.

Laura Weintraub, a local attorney and task force member, addressed the media in council chambers on Monday, explaining that the task force was conscientious to put the meetings at various times throughout the day as well as a variety of locales.

"We're in the outreach phase," she said. "We encourage people to come in and give their thoughts."

Weintraub further explained that once public input is gathered, the task force will coalesce its findings and return to the public arena for additional input sessions before finally making its recommendations to the city council. The council had asked for the recommendations by November — one year from the first meeting of the task force.

The task force has been meeting roughly monthly, mostly lining up public input and survey details.

The creation of the task force won overwhelming city council approval last July, when Council President Zack Filipovich said, "I don't think anyone should have to choose between going to work sick and getting a paycheck."

The "safe" aspect of Earned Safe and Sick Time refers to people who are victims of abuse and may require time away from work for reasons related to abuse.

Miller is the executive director at Community Action Duluth, where she said earned safe and sick time was offered even to its part-time seasonal employees for the first time last year.

"It is enormously appealing," said Miller, who said it was particularly important for parents of sick children. "Do you send children to school sick or do you lose a day of pay?"

Weintraub said 46 percent, or about 19,500 workers in Duluth, lack access to paid sick and safe time, citing studies and data made available to the task force.

The Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils last year passed measures requiring employers to provide sick pay to employees. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sued Minneapolis to prevent implementation of that measure; a judge ruled in the city's favor in January, and the Chamber has appealed.

Republicans in the state Legislature have introduced bills that would stop cities from being able to enact sick pay or minimum wage policies locally. Such legislation that would usurp city or county ordinances is called "preemption." Both Miller and Weintraub said the task force is forging ahead irrespective of what the state legislators are pursuing.