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Update on Public Hearing on Oregon Statewide Mandatory Sick Leave ‎Legislation

February 18, 2015

Overview

On February 16, 2015, the Oregon Senate Workforce Committee and ‎the House Business and Labor Committee held a joint public hearing on ‎the proposed statewide mandated paid sick leave legislation, HB 2005 ‎and SB 454. Over the course of two and a half hours, the committees ‎heard extensive testimony in support of and in opposition to the ‎legislation. In addition to those who testified, hundreds of people—‎many wearing stickers in support of paid sick leave—attended the ‎hearing, filling three legislative hearing rooms and spilling out into the ‎capitol's halls.

Among those who testified, many employers voiced concerns that the ‎added cost of providing paid sick leave would result in increased costs ‎to consumers, reduced pay and benefits to employees, and decreased ‎staffing levels. Some, opposing the legislation outright, urged the ‎committees to recognize the unique position of an individual employer ‎to craft benefits packages tailored to their employees' ‎needs. They contended that a statewide, one-size-fits-all paid sick ‎leave requirement would eliminate their ability to offer employees ‎alternative benefits, pay raises, or bonuses. Others emphasized that ‎the legislation would be particularly onerous on small businesses, and ‎they urged the committees to adopt a definition of "employer" in line ‎with the Oregon Family Leave Act, which applies only to employers ‎with twenty-five or more employees. Still other employers that already offer ‎paid sick leave testified in support of the bill, arguing that it increases ‎employee morale and retention. They urged the legislature to level ‎the business playing field so that employers that offer paid sick leave ‎cannot be undercut by competitors that do not.

One common theme between many witnesses in support and in ‎opposition of the legislation was the need for statewide ‎preemption. Business owners cited the increased cost of complying ‎with multiple regulations, and county representatives described the ‎tension and division that currently exist between Portland, Lane ‎County, Eugene, and their neighboring cities.

In addition, agricultural employers were particularly well represented ‎at the hearing. They voiced concerns over the difficulty of ‎administering the paid sick leave requirements in the context of a small ‎farming operation, with predominately seasonal and transient ‎employees, an unyielding harvest timeline, and a general lack of ‎human resources or other administrative support. In addition, to the ‎extent that the legislation will increase their operating costs, farm and ‎orchard operators emphasized they operate on very tight margins with ‎little or no control over the prices that they can charge for their ‎produce, which is overwhelmingly purchased by five national ‎retailers. Given those unique hardships, many of them asked the ‎committees to consider adding an agricultural exemption to the ‎legislation. However, the Oregon Farmworkers Union opposed an agricultural exemption, citing the low wages and frequent illnesses and ‎injuries that stem from farm work.

Finally, numerous employees testified about the hardships they face ‎when they must either go to work while they or a family member are ‎sick, forego their own wages to stay home, or find someone else to ‎care for their sick family members. Several home-care providers ‎testified that, because of the lack of available paid sick leave, they are ‎often forced to care for their elderly and medically fragile patients while ill. And several education professionals testified that frequently ‎children will attend school while ill, exposing teachers, administrators, ‎and other children, because their parents cannot afford to miss work in ‎order to care for them at home.

If you have any concerns of your own, the committees are still ‎accepting written testimony until this Friday, February 20.  To submit your written testimony, ‎e-mail both matthew.germer@state.or.us and matthew.puckett@state.or.us.

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