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Restaurants rally against Denver sick leave bill

Denver restaurant owners, supporters say proposal requiring paid sick leave will hurt business

Restaurant operators and other business owners rallied in a Denver park Monday in a last-minute effort to urge city residents to vote “No” on a proposed paid-sick-leave mandate.

Denver voters will be asked on Tuesday to decide on Initiative 300, which would require employers to offer paid sick leave to all employees who work more than 40 hours per year. Employees would accrue one hour of paid leave time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 72 hours in businesses with 10 employees or more and 40 hours for businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

The rally Monday in Denver’s Skyline Park urging voters to say “No on 300” was organized by Keeping Denver Competitive, a group that has won the support of the National Restaurant Association, the Colorado Restaurant Association, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The measure is also opposed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former restaurateur, as well as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

In a statement issued Monday by Keeping Denver Competitive, Adam Schlegel, founder of the restaurant Snooze Eatery in downtown Denver, said, “Initiative 300 hurts the local, community businesses that most of us in Denver want to encourage.

“We represent the shops and entertainment that revitalized downtown Denver,” he added. “We are the eateries that encourage the use of local farmers and markets. Today we are asking Denver to support us by voting ‘no’ on Initiative 300.”

The city’s proposed mandate has drawn national attention as the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle against the spread of sick-leave regulations across the country. The state of Connecticut recently adopted a paid-sick-leave mandate that is scheduled to go into effect in January, and similar bills have been adopted in Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

The initiative in Denver has largely pitted business interests against worker-rights groups. Opponents say the measure would have significant operational and cost implications for businesses at a time when the unemployment rate in Denver has been near 9 percent.

Restaurant operators attending the rally Monday also pledged to include an information card with guest checks urging them to oppose Initiative 300.

Last week, a survey of 177 small businesses based in the city indicated concern that a paid-sick-leave mandate would make Denver a less favorable place to start or grow a business, according to the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

According to the survey, 85 percent of respondents said the measure would make it harder to do business in Denver, and 55 percent said it would force them to reduce hiring or other benefits to staff.

Proponents of the measure, however, have argued that paid sick leave is key in protecting public health — especially in a foodservice setting, as sick workers may potentially serve customers food.

Advocates took advantage of the Halloween holiday on Monday by dressing in costumes — including one as a six-foot-tall germ named “Sick Rick” — as they canvassed for support and worked phone banks, saying the real “scary thing” is the number of workers who don’t have paid sick leave.

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Campaign for a Healthy Denver, lead by the advocacy group 9to5, National Association of Working Women, estimates that about 107,000 workers in Denver, or about 40 percent of all workers and 72 percent of foodservice workers, have no paid sick days at their workplace.

Supporters of the measure include the ACLU of Colorado, the Colorado Public Health Association and the Denver Area Labor Federation.

Television ads in support of Initiative 300 have focused on restaurant workers who, without access to paid sick leave, would go to work sick rather than take time off without pay.

Watch the commercials

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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