Last week, Main Street Alliance, in partnership with former governor Madeleine Kunin, convened a Business Task Force on Earned Leave in Burlington, Vermont. The event was held at locally owned Hotel Vermont over two days and included a visit from the United States Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez and a conversation with Washington business owner Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shops in Seattle.
The purpose of the two day roundtable was to bring together a broad cross section of the Vermont business community - including representatives from various business chambers, associations, and business owners to discuss last year’s legislative proposal on Earned Sick Days and to begin to chart a course forward with an eye toward the 2015 legislative session. Participation was well balanced between those who have a record of supporting efforts to establish a minimum standard of paid time off and those who have historically opposed such proposals.
The two-dozen participants heard from several experts in fields related to the debate on the first day and spent the following morning engaged in a facilitated dialogue surfacing both concerns and common ground. Secretary Perez, who stopped in to speak to the group for an hour, expressed his admiration for such a collegial approach to the issue, encouraged the continuation of productive dialogue, and expressed his hope that Vermont will be able to pass a bill next year.
Perhaps the most impactful moment was when Seattle business owner, Molly Moon Neitzel, teleconferenced in to share her experience as a business owner in a city that has already passed legislation similar to that under consideration in Vermont. Molly acknowledged her own initial skepticism of a universal standard of earned sick time in Seattle and admitted that, prior to the debate in her city, she had not offered sick time to her employees who tend to be between the ages of 18 and 24 and primarily part time. She was worried that her staff would use all their time and couldabuse the privilege – that it would be just another costly mandate in a city already known for its progressive workplace policies. In reality, however, she said that it’s had a negligible cost and has built enormous goodwill. She said, “It’s a liability on the books, but the cost just hasn’t materialized. I spent way more last year changing my brand of strawberries than paying for paid sick time.”
Main Street Alliance will continue to facilitate dialogue within the Vermont business community looking forward to the introduction of a new bill in 2015 to establish a minimum standard of earned paid leave in Vermont.