By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – Ali Ghambari, owner of a coffee shop chain in Seattle, posted a sign last month telling customers that he was boosting prices 1.5 percent to make up for the city’s mandatory sick leave policy.
But he wasn’t trying to make a statement against the city’s policy.
In fact, Ghambari says he actually likes Seattle’s mandatory sick leave, though he couldn’t afford to follow it without raising prices at his Cherry Street coffee houses.
“As far as sick pay, it’s a fantastic idea,” he said. “But customers have to understand at the end of the day they’re going to have to pay for it. It’s like everything else.”
Ghambari took some heat for his sign and eventually took it down. A woman quoted on Slog, a blog for Seattle’s weekly alternative newspaper “The Stranger,” called him names and vowed to stop supporting the popular coffee chain. Ghambari said his intent was not to provoke anger or oppose the sick leave policy. He just wanted to be open with customers.
“One of the craziest things is sometimes when you’re doing the right thing people can twist it to make it sound like a bad thing,” he said. Ghambari is still raising the prices and now instead of the sign, he’ll have to adjust all his menus and factor the cost on individual items.
Mandatory paid sick leave took effect in Seattle in September. And it could happen in Portland.
Portland officials are moving ahead with a proposal to require businesses with six or more employees to grant paid sick leave to employees. Commissioner Amanda Fritz is leading the charge and has proposed legislation that would give employees who work at least 240 hours per year an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to five days.
“As a retired Registered Nurse, former public school mom, and now Commissioner in charge of wellness for over 5,000 City employees, I believe protected sick leave is an important element of workplace safety and public health,” Fritz says on her blog.
Her proposal would only go into effect if the Oregon Legislature doesn’t take action this session. The city has put it at the top of its legislative agenda and is pushing the legislature to move on it. The city plans to hold another public meeting on the issue at the end of February and take action in March. It would go into effect in 2014. If it passes, Portland will join Seattle, Washing D.C. and San Francisco as the only cities that mandate paid sick leave.
But Jan Meekcoms, state director of the Oregon chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said 95 percent of its members oppose it.
“Mandatory leave and paid sick leave is a one-size-fits-all solution,” she said in an email. “It will cost jobs and business expansion in a state with an unemployment rate higher than that of the federal government since 1997.”
She said one member would consider ending business in Portland if the proposal passes.
“Sick leave is a matter best left to the employer and employee to negotiate,” she said.