Representatives from businesses large and small spoke out Tuesday against a proposal that would make Washington just the second state in the country to require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave.
For small employers with narrow profit margins, Senate Bill 6229 would add signficantly to the cost of doing business, forcing some to eliminate other worker benefits -- such as health insurance -- to make up the difference.
For large businesses, even those that already provide workers with paid sick leave, the bill would be an administrative burden and could conflict with existing labor contracts.
For example, Boeing's recent landmark agreement with the Machinist's union does not include an include a waiver for the proposed state law, meaning the contract and the state law would be at odds, Carolyn Ladd, a Boeing attorney, told members of the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee.
Proponents of the bill said it's needed to make sure that sick people don't report for work at restaurants and elsewhere, spreading disease.
But business owners said there are already ways to accommodate sick workers and protect public health without adding an expensive state mandate.
Lobbyists from AWB and other groups opposed to the bill attended Tuesday's hearing, and another one today on companion legislation, House Bill 2508,
But most of the testimony came from small business owners like Karissa Bresheare, the owner of a small chain of espresso drive-thrus, and Paul MacLurg, an AWB member and owner of a Lacey fitness center.
Bresheare said her staff of approximately 90 baristas use a shift-swapping system that allows workers to call upon a pool of on-call co-workers to take a shift if needed, for illness or any other reason.
Employees who miss a day can then use the same system to make up the hours later to keep from losing money, she said.
MacLurg said his workers rely on a similar shift-trading system. The proposed law would add about $500 or $600 per month in expenses, he said.
Ned Witting, one of the owners of Tacoma-based Print NW, said the bill would lead to a 10 percent increase in operating costs and a 50 percent cut in profit at a time when the entire industry is struggling.
It isn't just the business community that's concerned about the proposal, either.
Representatives from school districts and other education groups said that even though they already provide paid sick leave -- and they are sympathetic to the legislation's goal -- the way it's written could conflict with labor union agreements and generate additional costs for the state.
Throughout the country, state and local governments are debating paid sick leave requirements. So far, only a few have adopted them.
In September, Seattle became just the third city in the country to adopt such a mandate, joining San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In June, Connecticut became the first state to adopt a paid sick leave requirement.
At the very least, lawmakers in Olympia should wait a year to see how the Seattle ordinance plays out, suggested AWB member Steve Salins of Renton-based Shuttle Express.
Betty Neighbors, founder and president of Terra Staffing Group, agreed that lawmakers should wait to see how the Seattle ordinance plays out.
As it is now, it the proposal would add tremendous expense to business -- and carry a number of unintended consequences.