The Duluth City Council considered a host of amendments Monday night before settling on a few more details of a proposed ordinance that would require local employers to provide their workers with time off to deal with illness or other family emergencies.

If the ordinance passes, employers with five or more people on their payroll would be required to provide paid time off to their workers, thanks to an amendment offered by At Large Councilor Em Westerlund, lowering a previously proposed 15-worker threshold for coverage.

Councilors Joel Sipress and Barb Russ also successfully offered an amendment that would provide workers with the right to pursue a civil case in District Court if they feel they have not received just treatment under the city policy, so long as they have exhausted all their other options for internal appeal.

Meanwhile, At Large Councilor Noah Hobbs’ motion to exempt seasonal employees on the job for fewer than 120 days failed by a 6-3 vote, with Westerlund expressing concerns it would fail to protect too many vulnerable workers.

The modified ordinance probably will be tweaked again in two weeks, with several councilors indicating they still aim to offer additional amendments.

“I think it’s important that we take the time that’s needed to do this right,” Sipress said.

But several members of Duluth’s business community continued to warn of unintended consequences if the policy takes effect.

“The employee will be hurt first,” said Brian Daugherty, president of Grandma’s Restaurant Co., suggesting businesses will need to reduce staffing to cope with the added cost.

David Ross, president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, said: “The chamber remains opposed to this council mandating that employers be required to pay sick and safe time. We have expressed our concerns to you on multiple occasions and in many venues.”

But Adeline Wright, who runs a hair salon, said she has been offering her employees earned time off for several years, and credits the policy for improved staff loyalty.

“I feel it’s a moral obligation,” she said.

Lynn Goerdt, who operates Northern Waters Smokehaus with her husband, said her business has offered paid time off to its workers for six years now and has found the practice beneficial.

She assured other concerned businesses that it can be done.

“There’s nothing easy about this, but we figured it out,” she said.

Fosle apologizes

As promised, 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle addressed criticism that had been leveled at him for comments he made March 12 about a woman who described her experience with a miscarriage 31 years ago. Christina St. Germaine said her doctor had advised her to stay home from work, due to complications with her pregnancy, but she had no access to paid time off and had to report to work nevertheless. She subsequently miscarried.

Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle apologizes during Monday’s council meeting. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
Duluth City Councilor Jay Fosle apologizes during Monday’s council meeting. (Steve Kuchera / DNT)
At that meeting, Fosle said: “People make choices in life. If you got pregnant at 19, you did that on your own.”

Fosle offered further explanation Monday, saying: “I used the words that a person made a choice in life, and it offended this person. Ms. St. Germaine was offended by me saying it was a choice made and that life is about choices. I’m sincerely sorry that statement offended you, and I apologize for that. Prior to being interrupted, I was trying to make a comparison to her statement that ended tragically, to the point that this council will have to make a choice which could be tragic to our local businesses in the community.”

Fosle went on to relate that he recognized the loss St. Germaine had experienced, as his own wife had twice miscarried. He also noted that his daughter became pregnant at the age of 19, so he was not out to pass judgment on anyone.

In other business, the council voted to increase the cap on vacation rental homes that are permitted to operate in Duluth from 60 to 114.

The council also approved a resolution affirming their commitment eliminating discrimination against women and girls.