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Our View: Another blow to business being pushed

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Hands kept shooting up all over the room, question after question, as fast as the answers could be provided about Duluth’s new earned-sick-and-safe-time ordinance, set to go into effect Jan. 1. For 45 fast-paced minutes last week, a forum at Valentini’s restaurant on London Road made clear that uncertainty and opposition remain strong among Duluth employers, most of whom already have been responsibly and appropriately providing paid time off to workers — no overreaching government regulation necessary, thank you.

The bad news for these business leaders and others across Minnesota is that the burden of unnecessary workplace mandates could soon grow even heavier. Earned sick and safe time doesn’t go far enough, the nonprofit Main Street Alliance, some Minnesota legislators, and others are arguing. They’re pushing for a new state law to require paid family and medical leave. This new benefit would work like unemployment and give Minnesota workers up to half a year off, with pay, to care for sick loved ones, to recover from surgery or illness, or to care for a newborn baby.

As wonderful for workers as that may sound, the proposal is also “expensive, expansive, and unrealistic,” as Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon said in an exclusive statement to the News Tribune Opinion page this week.

For one thing, every one of us would have to pay in to make paid family and medical leave a reality. Every Minnesota worker would be nicked .31% of his or her wages. An employee making $50,000 a year would pay about $155, or approximately $3 a week. Employers would be nicked the same .31%, coming to about $3,100 annually on a $1 million payroll.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development would administer the program; concerningly, proponents aren’t sure what the administration costs might total.

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“Earned sick and safe time is great. We support it. A lot of businesses support it. … But it doesn’t solve the problem. The real problem is that businesses don’t have access to paid leave for themselves or for their employees,” Main Street Alliance State Director Corinne Horowitz said in an interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board ahead of a press conference in Duluth last week to plug the proposal.

No, the contributions workers and bosses in Minnesota would be required to make aren’t huge. But how many workers would welcome yet another withholding from their paycheck? And wouldn’t this be yet another “tax” and burden on businesses in a state already in the top five nationally for corporate and individual income tax rates?

If the Minnesota Legislature approves this proposal (lawmakers said no last year and can continue to say no), the reaction statewide, no doubt, would echo how many Duluth business operators are feeling now about the city’s new earned-sick-and-safe-time law.

“It’s just one thing after another for the business community,” Duluth restaurateur Carol Valentini said at last week’s forum in Duluth. “When you’re in a small business, as many of us are, it adds up, it adds up, it adds up, all of these requirements and fees — and it is becoming increasingly difficult. … I guarantee you it’s going to be a hardship for a lot of small businesses. … Every single one of these people in this room, I can tell you, take care of their employees and want to.”

Certainly there can be a way for Minnesota workers and small-business operators to be able to take extended time off when they need to. Our own health and the health and well-being of our loved ones ought to be priority No. 1.

But taking even more from workers’ already too-small paychecks would be a wrong way to go about it. So would further burdening employers in a state that struggles anyway to attract and retain industry, corporations, and other economy-boosting, job-providing business activity.

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