In a recent Cola interview with city council member and mayoral candidate Tim Burgess, we asked him to explain the claim made by his supporters that he was the key vote on the lefty city ordinance that requires employers to provide paid sick leave. His critics, for example, pointed out that the legislation passed 8-1; how was Burgess a key vote on a lopsided margin like that, critics scoffed?
Burgess told us he played a key role by meeting with lefty sponsor Nick Licata (a walk around Green Lake actually—over Starbucks banana bread) when the votes weren’t there yet. Burgess says he told Licata his own concerns—ones the business community had raised, and then, at the urging of Licata, met with workers’ rights groups to hammer out a paid a sick leave compromise that was more agreeable to business.
(The changes included: allowing shift swaps in lieu of sick leave (something the restaurant and bar industry pushed for), exempting very small businesses (those with fewer than five employees, excluding about 33,000 workers in Seattle); requiring employees to work at least 120 hours a year inside Seattle to be eligible for sick leave; and ensuring that all employees must wait six months before they can take paid sick leave.)
That work, Burgess claimed, sealed the deal—getting other council members who’d been on the fence to vote for it. Burgess told us that the economic justice advocates who pushed the bill, such as the Economic Opportunity Institute would verify his version of events.
We took him up on it. And, indeed, everyone we spoke to gave Burgess serious props.
For today’s One Question, we asked the Economic Opportunity Institute policy director Marilyn Watkins: Was Tim Burgess key to passing the paid sick leave ordinance.
Here's what she told us:
"The role he played was helping put together the language that the majority would commit to supporting... helping finalize the specifics of the policy language—that got [the hesitant members] over."—Marilyn Watkins"My experience in a lot of political issues and controversial ones like this, even ones where there’s widespread public support ... I’ve seen a certain amount of hesitancy on the issues, given the fear of potential backlash from fairly powerful political players in the business community. I think that was the case here.
"We had the support of the majority of the City Council members, but there was hesitancy [since] a lot of other cities and states hadn’t already done this. [The Seattle City Council] weren’t the first, but they were in the lead, so there was a certain amount of risk in doing it.
"I think [at the beginning] we had three or four members that were committed yeses and three, four, or five really strong maybes. What I was told was: At that point he [Burgess] was asked to take some leadership. The role he played was helping put together the language that the majority would commit to supporting. His role was helping finalize the specifics of the policy language that got [the hesitant members] over.
"There were a lot of members that were supportive of the issue, but had questions. Having, I think, the role he played and the blessing of Nick Licata, the lead sponsor, got them to say, ‘If this is the policy, then yeah, we’ll be on board.’ His role was really behind the scenes in getting other members comfortable with it.”