Cook County Board votes for paid sick time for suburban workers

Sam Krevlin, Reporter

The Cook County Board voted Wednesday to give suburban workers paid sick time.

More than 440,000 suburban workers in Cook County, including those from Evanston, will be affected by the ordinance allowing a maximum of five sick days per year. The county ordinance allows employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. It goes into effect on July 1.

The law brings the rest of the county on par with Chicago, which passed a similar law in June.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said the ordinance is an important step for the suburbs that should make his district an attractive place to work. Suffredin, whose district borders Chicago on Howard Street, said it’s unfair for a worker on the other side of Howard to have better benefits than residents in his district.

“It struck me as very unfair that the city of Chicago has one set of standards, and the suburbs didn’t have it,” Suffredin said. “I see it as leveling the playing field and making sure we have the ability to get workers who will want to work in the suburbs.”

Suffredin said he was also concerned about the decrease in productivity of employees who come to work sick. Employees, he said, may get co-workers sick and can end up causing businesses more harm than good. Because many of the affected jobs are in the service area, having sick people working in restaurants is detrimental, he said.

Although Suffredin believes the cost of the ordinance is low for employers, Tanya Triche, vice president of Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said it fails to meet the needs and wants of employers.

She criticized the bureaucracy surrounding the ordinance, saying the ordinance is “more complicated than any other law mandating paid sick leave.” Triche criticized a portion of the ordinance that allows workers to transfer hours into the next year, saying it puts an unnecessary burden on employers.

Triche said the ordinance will cost employees opportunities and may hurt small businesses.

“There is all this talk about how everyone loves small businesses, but at the same time when they are presented with a real thing to do for small businesses — which is to make a mandate simpler — they look the other way,” she said.

Melissa Josephs, director of Equal Opportunity Policy at Women Employed, said paid sick leave is a major step for employee benefits. Women Employed is an advocacy group that works to level the playing field for women in the workplace. The group was part of the Cook County Earned Sick Time Coalition that worked to get the ordinance passed.

Josephs said employees have had to face tough dilemmas in the past, including a fear of being fired and losing money because they are on an hourly wage.

“You would think the employer wouldn’t want you coming into work sick,” Josephs said. “I wouldn’t want to come into work sick either, but if I don’t get paid I will be afraid to stay home. Also I don’t want to stay home and get fired.”

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Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed paraphrased information about the portion of the ordinance that allows workers to transfer hours into the next year to Melissa Josephs. Tanya Triche shared that information. The Daily regrets the error.