Spokane City Council “Defers” Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Until After Elections

Spokane City Council “Defers” Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Until After Elections

Spokane City Council “Defers” Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Until After Elections

Last week, a group of Freedom Foundation activists showed up at the Spokane City Council chambers to express their concern about the council’s drive to pass a law requiring employers in the city to provide certain amounts of paid sick leave to employees. On Friday, the city council announced it was shelving the issue, at least until after the November elections.

It’s not quite cause-and-effect, but the presence of grassroots activists certainly played a role in making the employment regulations toxic enough for some on the council to consider passage of a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance an electoral liability.

The announcement is a pretty stunning reversal, given previous rhetoric and assurances by members of the council an ordinance would be passed by June.

At the Aug. 10 council meeting, the Freedom Foundation personally re-invited Council President Ben Stuckart to debate the merits of a mandatory paid sick leave law. Five other citizen activists and Freedom Foundation supporters spoke against a citywide paid sick leave mandate while another half-dozen stood in opposition. 

Four days later, the council released the following statement:

Due to ongoing discussion with citizens and the business community, the Spokane City Council will defer its decision on an earned safe and sick leave policy while it attends to the pressing need to work with the mayor to craft the 2016 city budget.

Although council members have already received numerous comments on the proposal, some stakeholders request additional time for public input and a more detailed analysis of potential economic and community health impacts.

“To honor requests for further dialogue, I’ve requested council members hold off on submitting a draft ordinance until more input and research can be gathered,” said Council President Stuckart. “I look forward to revisiting a sick and safe leave policy after the council has adopted a strong budget that prioritizes city services for 2016.”

The Freedom Foundation has yet to hear if Stuckart’s stated intention to “honor requests for further dialogue” includes responding to its invitation to debate.

With four positions up for election this fall, the liberal city council cannot currently cobble together the votes to pass an ordinance, according to the Spokesman-Review

Concerned activists and businesses should be ready for the issue to reappear after the November election if voters maintain the current liberal supermajority.

An overview of events leading to the “deferral” of the paid sick leave ordinance is provided below:

  • February: At the urging of labor activists at the Spokane Alliance, the progressive city council majority first begins work on the ordinance. At a Spokane Alliance rally with Sen. Patty Murray, Stuckart announces the city council will pass a paid sick leave ordinance in 2015.  
  • March: At another Spokane Alliance event, Councilmember Jon Snyder commits to passing a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance by June.
  • April 20: The council votes to convene a paid sick leave task force to advise the city on a potential ordinance. During the meeting, Councilmember Mike Fagan references a Freedom Foundation research paper to substantiate his concerns that a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance could harm local businesses while failing to improve public health. Stuckart responds that he has “six pages of responses” to the Freedom Foundation paper that he will “save for the night we pass this policy.” Following his comments, the Freedom Foundation contacts Stuckart’s office to hear his objections to its research, noting that “the time for a discussion of the policy implications of such an ordinance is now, not after the outcome has been determined.” 
  • May: The council’s paid sick leave task force meets for a mere six hours. According to the task force’s report to the council, “Several group members expressed frustration with the amount of time available, their personal inability to interact with their constituents, the large amount of factual and policy background information needed to be conversant on the subject, and differing conceptions of the group’s task involved the question of whether a policy is necessary.”
  • June 29: The Spokane Regional Health District releases the results of a survey of Spokane workers, finding that, “Workers with paid sick leave or paid time off were just as likely to go to work sick as those without paid sick leave.”
  • June 25: The Freedom Foundation invites Stuckart to participate in a public debate about paid sick leave mandates.
  • July 7: Blaine Stum, chair of the Spokane Human Rights Commission sends the Freedom Foundation a six-page letter with objections to our research paper.
  • July 21: The Freedom Foundation publishes a line-by-line response to Stum’s letter.   
  • August 10: At the city council meeting, Freedom Foundation labor policy analyst Max Nelsen personally re-invites Stuckart to participate in a debate. Five other citizen activists speak out against a mandatory paid sick leave ordinance while another half-dozen signify their opposition.
  • August 14: Stuckart releases a statement announcing the council’s intention to “defer” action on a paid sick leave ordinance until after the November elections. Stuckart tells the Spokesman Review the council doesn’t have the votes to pass the ordinance.
Director of Research and Government Affairs
As the Freedom Foundation’s Director of Research and Government Affairs, Maxford Nelsen leads the team working to advance the Freedom Foundation’s mission through strategic research, public policy advocacy, and labor relations. Max regularly testifies on labor issues before legislative bodies and his research has formed the basis of several briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court. Max’s work has been published in local newspapers around the country and in national outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, National Review, and the American Spectator. His work on labor policy issues has been featured in media outlets like the New York Times, Fox News, and PBS News Hour. He is a frequent guest on local radio stations like 770 KTTH and 570 KVI. From 2019-21, Max was a presidential appointee to the Federal Service Impasses Panel within the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which resolves contract negotiation disputes between federal agencies and labor unions. Prior to joining the Freedom Foundation in 2013, Max worked for WashingtonVotes.org and the Washington Policy Center and interned with the Heritage Foundation. Max holds a labor relations certificate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and graduated magna cum laude from Whitworth University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A Washington native, he lives in Olympia with his wife and sons.