On Monday, November 20, 2017, the Duluth City Council will take up the matter of the “Earned Sick and Safe Time” task force’s recommendations. Fresh from city elections that resulted in the re-election of so-called “progressive” council members, the Council is probably emboldened, and feels they have a mandate to impose such a draconian burden on all local businesses.

The question thus far has been, “Don’t you think sick and safe time is a good idea? People have problems at home, doctor appointments, sick kids, etc. Don’t you think they should be able to take time off to attend to these things?” Well, of course I do. In a perfect world, this would be just grand. What I don’t agree with is the idea that the City Council thinks this should just be imposed on every business owner in the city.

The recommendations state that for every 30 hours a person works, they accrue one hour of sick and safe time. A person working 40 hours a week will accrue 69.3 hours of fully paid time off in one year. Assuming the employee is making $20 an hour, $41,600 a year, this would be a cost of nearly $1400.00 per employee. Multiply this by 50, which is still considered a small employer, and an owner finds himself having to scramble to come up with an extra $70,000 a year. That might be an amount equal to, or more than he/she is able to pay themselves as a salary. So just like that, this expense is just arbitrarily imposed on every single business in Duluth.

What is the recourse for a business owner? Is he/she going to be able to deduct that amount from their business property taxes? Is the city going to pay the employers for this expense? My guess is no. This is just a very bad ordinance, hearkening back to the Quartering Act that Britain imposed on the Colonies which led to the original Tea Party and the Revolutionary War. Basically, the City of Duluth is imposing a huge fine on every business for the crime of being so negligent as to locate their business within the city limits. If you own a business, you are forced by law to not only pay people for the time that they are productively working for you, you must also pay them for 70 hours of time when they are nowhere to be found. There is no requirement that they prove they had some hardship, they could be sitting home watching TV, or working for your competitor, or anything they want to do.

How is this going to be enforced? Are we going to have to hire another 20 city employees to keep track of every single business in town, and their time sheets and pay stubs? There goes all the money from the recent tax increase! 

I had a conversation with an office worker I know who was in favor of this ordinance. She is a very dependable, competent person, a mother, and someone who would benefit from the flexibility of sick and safe time off. She made some great points, one of which was, if you can’t afford to pay sick and safe pay, you don’t deserve to have a business. Now, at first that may seem reasonable, but if you get under the surface of most small businesses, you will soon find out that the owner is not always “rolling in the dough.” Most of the time, the local bank is the entity making all the profit from the enterprise. The owner has all of the worries, has to pay all of the expenses, has to deal with all manner of uncertainty, market conditions, unpredictable weather. Oftentimes, the payoff only comes when the business is sold, just in time to pay for the nursing home that the owner has to spend his/her last days in. The truth is, most small businesses don’t make it 5 years.

The owner makes an agreement with the employee, i.e., you do this job for me, and I will pay you X amount per hour/month/year. If the employee doesn’t like the terms, there is nothing stopping them from seeking employment elsewhere. A recent economic report for the State of Minnesota showed that over 88% of employers would hire more people but there are not enough employees to choose from. Now is the time to negotiate for sick and safe time, a higher salary, better working conditions. Employers are over the barrel right now!

I am sure that the Duluth City Council will do the wrong thing, as usual, and adopt this unfair and hopefully, soon to be challenged in court, ordinance. It is a shame, but it is going to take some real tough times to put the brakes on this steamroller of bad government that has resulted in almost zero growth in the population of this little socialist paradise over the last 30 years.