Update on Public Hearing on Oregon Statewide Mandatory Sick Leave Legislation
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.