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Movement building for paid sick days in Denver

This week, Campaign for Healthy Denver activists, dressed in infectious disease masks, turned in 12,000 petition signatures for a ballot initiative that would give paid sick days to Denver workers. The group has collected three times the nearly 4000 signatures required and the Denver City Clerk now has 25 days to certify them.

Erin Bennett, Colorado director of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, and spokesperson for the Campaign for Healthy Denver, was confident that they would be able to get the needed number of signatures, and also garner community support, evidenced in the high number of signatures collected.

“Our goal was to get that many signatures, but there was an overwhelming response,” Bennett said.

The ballot initiative would allow Denver employees to receive up to nine days of sick leave each year. Smaller businesses with ten employees or less could cap at five sick days annually. So far Bennett says they have gained support from over 20 businesses and many different community groups.

According to the Campaign, nearly 40% of Denver workers, or 100,000 people, lack access to paid sick days. Joel Pruce, a Denver student, works 30-40 hours weekly as a server in a restaurant, and believes the initiative will benefit both workers and customers.

“When we get sick we have to come into work or try and find someone to cover our shift,” Pruce said, “meaning we go without pay.” Pruce also believes that without paid sick days it is a health issue as well.

“The average service worker who makes your dinner needs to be healthy,” Pruce said.

The campaign has encountered some opposition to paid sick days, mainly from groups that oppose mandates on businesses, including the Colorado Restaurant Association and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

In a press release, Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership said, “This proposal is devastating to Denver and small businesses in particular. Small businesses will be forced to make decisions to reduce their workforce or the overall level of benefits offered. We cannot afford to place additional burdens on employers as we focus on growing jobs.”

Pruce said he thinks the initiative will not negatively affect the Denver economy, based on similar regulations already in place in other cities such as Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

“Clearly the ceiling has not crumbled because of paid sick days,” Pruce said.

Brian Freeman, President of Grower’s Organic wrote an editorial for the Denver Business Journal in favor of paid sick days and was surprised by much of the opposition he’s received to his article.

“I think that my people are worth it, and employers have to ask themselves ‘wouldn’t I want these benefits if I was an employee here?’ Freeman said.

Freeman already offers paid sick days for his workers and he said that it has proven beneficial for his company, increasing competitiveness and resulted in low turnover rates of employees.

“Who are we as business owners without our employees?” Freeman asked.

In a survey conducted by Anzalone-Liszt research, both a majority of Republicans (58%) and Democrats (78%) support the measure. Bennett believes that the next step in gaining support for the initiative is to conduct one on one conversations with Denver voters on the issues.

“The polling shows that we have strong support, and confirms that voters like this measure,” Bennett said.

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