Minnesota House passes bill mandating paid sick days for workers

A last-minute amendment to the bill grants waivers to key DFL allies: construction unions.

By: - February 17, 2023 9:39 am

Rep. Liz Olson advocates for her earned sick and safe time bill on the House Floor Feb. 16, 2023. Photo by Andrew VonBank/Minnesota House Informational Services.

Minnesota House Democrats passed a bill late Thursday night that requires businesses of all sizes to provide workers with six paid sick days off per year. The bill still needs Senate passage.

Under the “earned sick and safe time” bill (HF19), workers would accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work up to 48 hours a year. Workers could use the time off for a number of reasons, including to recover from an illness, care for a sick family member, or because of a weather-related school or work closure.

“(This bill) ensures that the 900,000 Minnesotans who currently don’t have access to a single paid day off … would be able to have that human dignity of being able to stay home with a sick kid, to take care of themselves or a loved one,” said Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, the lead author of the bill.

The rules would apply to part-time employees so long as they work at least 80 hours a year, but not federal workers or independent contractors. Workers can carry over unused paid sick leave from year to year and bank up to 80 hours total.

The bill passed over objections from Republicans, who sought exemptions for small businesses. They said small business owners often treat employees like family members, and the new rules were heavy-handed.

“The last thing we need to do is put another burden on small businesses as they try to grow,” said Rep. Danny Nadeau, R-Rogers. “Let businesses grow … Let them make the choice when they can do this, and let’s help them. Instead of swinging a hammer at them, put your arm around them.”

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said calculating the accrual rate would be too hard for many employers. He said most of the small business owners in his district don’t have computers to do payroll and instead do it by hand.

If the bill becomes law, Minnesota would join 14 states that have paid sick leave mandates. Four of Minnesota’s largest cities — Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth and Bloomington — also have enacted paid sick leave rules in recent years, though most exempt employers with five or fewer employees.

Employers who violate the policy could be fined as much as $10,000, which Republicans said was outlandish.

A Democratic-controlled House passed similar bills in 2020 and 2021 but they were blocked from becoming law by Republican majorities in the Senate. The bill has favorable odds to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate this year, and Gov. Tim Walz has included it in his budget.

Paid sick leave is associated with better health outcomes and fewer occupational injuries, according to a report by the Minnesota Department of Health. The report also notes that paid sick leave has public health benefits, if people can isolate when sick. A sick worker was identified as the likely source of 208 foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota from 2004-2013.

The House passed the bill on a party-line vote 69-54 after adopting an amendment that gives construction unions the option of waiving the requirement for contractors. Trade unions administer their own benefit programs that contractors pay into, which unions may prefer over the state’s proposed earned sick time policy.

Republicans called the amendment a giveaway to the DFL’s union allies, and said the same flexibility should be given to small businesses and cities that want different rules.

“I’d like to call it the Lizzy’s Loophole,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, in reference to the bill’s author, Rep. Liz Olson from Duluth.

“We’ve seen it from our friends on the Iron Range before … A little special perk, a little special set aside, is given to the collective bargaining units … I compliment them on their effectiveness for doing this. I just want the flexibility that the unions have gotten. I just want to see that for small businesses,” Garofalo said.

Olson defended the amendment, saying it expanded eligibility for sick time by removing a provision that would have exempted contractors from the rule if they pay a prevailing wage set by the state. Those contractors will have to offer paid time off.

Despite their objections, Republicans voted for the construction union-friendly amendment, which passed unanimously on a voice vote.

“I was contacted on my cell phone by my union overlord bosses and I just want to make sure they understand I am voting in favor of this amendment as well,” Garofalo said.

Through seven hours of debate, Republicans offered a slate of amendments which at times were contradictory: One would have blocked cities from enacting sick time policies of their own, and another would have allowed cities to reject the state’s sick time policy or adopt less generous requirements.

Rep. Patti Anderson, R-Dellwood, spoke in favor of both.

“I do believe that labor rule policy needs to be consistent across geographic areas, especially city to city,” Anderson said, but because that was rejected, she said cities should have the flexibility to make their own decisions.

Democrats also rejected proposals from Republicans to exempt businesses with fewer than 26 employees; allow employers to delay providing the benefit until 90 days after an employee starts; and exempt employees who work less than 20 hours a week.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.