Increased Paid Leave For Chicago Restaurant Workers Hits a Snag

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The Illinois Restaurant Association, still dazed from Chicago’s October decision to phase out the tipped minimum wage, is mounting a campaign against a proposed ordinance that would increase paid time off for Chicago workers to 12 days.

In March, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law new rules that mandated businesses offer at least five days of sick leave starting in 2024 across Illinois. Chicago alderpeople introduced an ordinance in July that would supersede the state law. Originally proposed, it called for about 15 days, but an updated ordinance calls for 12 days — six sick days (an increase from five) and six days of paid time off. The ordinance also requires businesses to pay out unused sick time when an employee leaves a job.

Supporters are using similar talking points that were used in the tipped minimum wage discussion — that the issue disproportionately impacts women, immigrants, and BIPOC. Supporters also say the ordinance would give families more flexibility.

The City Council is expected to hear testimony on the ordinance on Monday, October 30 before the Workforce Development Committee.

There seems to be a template for progressive: Much like the tipped minimum wage ordinance, the sick leave ordinance has support from 30 City Council sponsors. The measure also has the backing of various unions and labor groups including Arise Chicago, the Chicago Federation of Labor, Raise the Floor Alliance, and Women Employed. Supporters say the ordinance will benefit low-income workers, allowing them to take the needed time to visit doctors or get medical care for ailing family members.

The ordinance covers full- and part-time workers. Employers would have decision-mkaing over paid time off and workers would need to provide documentation to their bosses for requests for three-straight days of sick time.

The Illinois Restaurant Association is pushing for a compromise, proposing 10 days of sick leave. Talks over the compromise collapsed because of disagreement on the payout, according to the Sun-Times. Ordinance sponsor 22nd Ward Ald. Michael Rodriguez told the paper: “If workers don’t have the ability to take those days or be paid out for them, they’re not real days. There is no benefit.”

The association claims that “the current proposal goes too far too quickly by nearly tripling the new, yet-to-be-implemented state paid time off requirements and inflicting a tremendous financial burden on every Chicago business, regardless of size or sector,” according to a social media statement.

“The unions now have their hands inside the city council,” Sam Sanchez, head of government for the Illinois Restaurant Association tells Eater Chicago while referring to Mayor Brandon Johnson’s allyship with pro-labor organizations. “We get it — it’s what you work for. But it has to work for everybody, it can’t go just one way.”

Sanchez is probably best known for founding John Barleycorn, the defunct minichain of clubby sports bars with locations in Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park. He’s since delegated some of his responsibilities to his daughters who operate venues including La Luna in Pilsen and Tree House in River North.

“If you’re sick, you’re sick, but we know our employees take sick days to extend the weekend, and we’re fine with that,” Sanchez says. “The worst thing they can do is shove this down the throats of every business owner in the city of Chicago — that will not work.”

Restaurants can’t afford the payouts proposed in the ordinance, Sanchez says. The association estimates it could cost restaurants with 1,000 workers about $500,000 per year. Sanchez says neither LA nor New York mandate payouts. LA mandates 16 days of leave, while New York mandates five.

Many restaurant owners feel like they’ve been unfairly targeted and point out that their profit margins aren’t huge. “We are the bread and butter of the city in Chicago because we raise taxes and pay taxes and create jobs,” Sanchez says. “Why are they making business owners the enemies?”

Progressives presented a united front during the tipped minimum wage debate, only reaching a compromise with Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia a few weeks before the vote. Sanchez would prefer to hit fast forward on the process for sick leave.

“Ten days is a big win — you can’t get greedy,” Sanchez says. “Take a bow, shake their hands, hug it out, and get back to work.”

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