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July 8, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Paid sick leave in Seattle: a gay-rights issue?

Posted by Beth Kaiman

From Staff Reporter J.B. Wogan:

Since Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata introduced his proposal for paid sick days two weeks ago, political advocates have framed the debate as a public-health issue, a low-income workers issue, a quality-of-life issue, an immigrant-rights issue, and more broadly, a labor issue.

And now, it's being cast as a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issue.

"Many LGBT workers are concentrated in industries where paid sick leave is not typical," said Mike Andrew, from the King County chapter of Pride At Work, an AFL-CIO constituency group.

The proposal would require all businesses in Seattle to provide a minimum number of paid sick days to their workers. The number of days required would be on a sliding scale, with larger businesses providing more paid sick days. There are some exceptions, for instance, for shift-swapping and for businesses that operate under collective-bargaining agreements.

Workers could use days if they or a family member were injured, ill, or scheduled for a medical appointment, among other reasons.

Seattle would be one of the first cities in the country to pass such a law.

Andrew said he knows paid sick leave is important to his membership, which he estimated to be about 450, based on anecdotal information. He doesn't know how many or what percentage of gay, bisexual and transgender Seattle workers do not receive paid sick days, he said.

"Nobody knows for sure how many LGBT workers there are because no one counts us," Andrew said.

So why are LGBT advocates so sure that their members have a stake in this fight?

Debbie Carlsen, from the LGBTQ Allyship said she's spoken to group members at the Pride Parade and other LGBT events. Like Andrew, she's also spoken to union members who say a high percentage of workers in industries that do not typically provide paid sick days, such as restaurant and retail, are gay, bisexual, or transgender

The proposal would allow workers to use the paid sick days to care for family members. That would include domestic partners, not just spouses, Andrew said.

"If the proposed ordinance had said 'spouse,' that would have been problematic. Same sex couples are forbidden to marry in this state," Andrew said. "That doesn't mean that we don't have partners or other family members."

Another reason the LGBT community is backing the proposal is that two local prominent gay businesses owners -- Jody Hall of Cupcake Royale and Risa Blythe of Girlie Press -- support it, Carlsen said.

"I haven't thought about it from that perspective. That's interesting," Hall said. "I don't necessarily segment it out for that gay population."

"My take on it comes more from workers' rights," Blythe said. "I try to follow the principles in the same way unions try to think of their people's rights."

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