Chicago approves nation’s most progressive paid leave law for workers | Courthouse News Service
Monday, November 27, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chicago approves nation’s most progressive paid leave law for workers

The new policy echoes a similar state law signed by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker in March.

CHICAGO (CN) — In their second high-stakes meeting in a week, Chicago alders on Thursday night approved a new ordinance mandating paid time off for all workers in the city. The ordinance was the only item on the city council's meeting agenda, after two pro-business alders used a parliamentary maneuver to punt an expected vote on the measure from a prior meeting on Tuesday.

Cheers went up in the city council chamber when Mayor Brandon Johnson, himself one of the bill's sponsors, announced the "Chicago Paid Leave and Paid Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance" had passed 36 -12.

"Well done everyone," Johnson said at a press conference immediately following the city council meeting, thanking many of the bill's aldermanic sponsors and supporting organized labor groups, like the Service Employees International Union.

The ordinance is the most expansive of its kind in the nation, though Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a similar state level law in March that mandates five days paid time off for all workers in Illinois starting in 2024.

The Chicago version goes further — it orders that all private employers in Chicago provide their employees with at least 10 days of paid time off per year, including five sick days and five vacation days, beginning on Dec. 31. Its passage represents the second time this week that the progressive mayor and his allies have successfully moved a major policy goal through the council. The first was on Tuesday, when the council approved placing the "Bring Chicago Home Act" — which would raise transfer taxes on properties sold in the city for over $1 million — as a voter referendum on the March 2024 ballot.

Under the new law, employers can choose to give their workers all ten days immediately. Otherwise employees will accrue one hour of sick leave and one hour of vacation time for every 35 hours they work. Chicago municipal law already required employers to provide their employees with five sick days per year, and the new ordinance also allows for some annual rollover — all five days of sick time, and up to two days of vacation time.

It also mandates that large businesses with 100 or more employees must pay their workers for their unused vacation time when they quit or are fired. Medium businesses with 51 to 100 employees get a slight grace period on this front; through 2024 they will only have to pay departing employees two days of unused time before needing to pay out all unused time starting in 2025. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from having to pay out departing workers for their unused vacation time.

Despite these new benefits, the ordinance approved Thursday night represents a watered down version of the bill that sponsors originally introduced earlier this year. That version called for 15 paid days off for workers — an unacceptable amount of hours for Chicago's capitalist class, though still less time off than workers in France and the UK enjoy.

Months of negotiations between the bill's sponsors and advocates, and Chicago businesses and their aldermanic allies, resulted in the 10-day compromise along with several other several concessions. For example, the new law doesn't require Chicago businesses of any size to pay out departing employees for their unused sick time. It also grants employers a one-year grace period before employees can sue them for wrongfully denying vacation days.

Nevertheless, several Chicago-area business organizations remained opposed to it at the time it passed. A major point of contention was that, despite requiring workers wait to until January 2025 before they can sue their bosses for over vacation denial, the ordinance allows workers to sue over sick leave starting this New Year's Eve. The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, in a statement issued earlier in the week, called the threat of lawsuits "dangerous" to employers.

"Businesses, especially small businesses without robust human resources departments, will be exposed to the threat of private rights of action. The payout exemption for small businesses contained in the proposal does not extend to this dangerous private right of action language contained in the ordinance," the chamber said.

An opponent of the ordinance, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly — one of the business sector's most prominent allies in city hall and one of the two aldermen who punted the vote from Tuesday's meeting — even attempted to add a last minute pro-business amendment to the ordinance prior to the floor vote. Saying businesses had "waived the white flag" over the new rule's passage and just wanted some additional legal protection, his amendment would have given employers a 30-day grace period before employees could file legal action against them for alleged violations of the new law.

"They're asking for this one small provision so that this ordinance does not become a jackpot for litigation," Reilly said.

His attempt to add the new language into the ordinance failed when one of the bill's supporters, 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin, successfully tabled the proposal for Workforce Development Committee discussion at a later date.

Contrary to Reilly's advocacy of business interests, a director for one of the groups who helped shape the new ordinance said during the meeting that employers' concerns shouldn't come before workers'.

"We have moved significantly from our original proposal ... despite that, the defenders of big business and corporations remain opposed to this measure," said Ugo Ukere, policy director for the labor advocacy group Raise the Floor Alliance. "Their reason is that it's too much too soon. I've heard that time and time again, that it is too much, too soon, and I'm sick of hearing it. Alderpeople, I ask you, is it too much to give workers the ability to take time off to care for a sick family member?"

Per the overwhelming support the measure received Thursday, most of the city council agreed with Ukere.

"If Covid taught us anything, it's that workers need time off," 22nd Ward Alderman Michael Rodriguez, the ordinance's main sponsor, said prior to the vote.

Follow @djbyrnes1
Categories / Employment, Government, Regional

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.