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Obama to Propose Paid Sick Leave for Millions of Workers, Including Restaurant Employees

The President has asked congress for $2 billion to support the new measure.

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In an unprecedented move, President Barack Obama is expected to propose a measure that would mandate paid sick leave for millions of workers. Restaurant employees — who rarely are offered paid sick days whether they are salaried or hourly — are a major segment of the working public that would benefit from such a measure, which was first announced in an article on LinkedInObama also stopped by a D.C. cafe this morning to chat with locals about his ideas for paid sick leave. Known as the Healthy Families Act, it's an executive order modeled after a bill first introduced in 2005 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Employees would earn one hour of paid sick time 'for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours of paid sick time a year.'

The proposal, if introduced as a bill and passed, would affect all companies that employ at least 15 workers. Employees would earn one hour of paid sick time "for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours of paid sick time a year." The proposal guarantees paid sick leave even for part-time employees. The proposal's maximum of seven days total of paid sick leave per year is just shy of the national average given to full-time employees in the U.S., which ranges from more than eight days for jobs categorized as professional and technical to seven days for clerical employees.

As of the last election in November, the state of Massachusetts and Oakland, Calif. passed similar measures. In Oakland, businesses of all sizes must provide their employees with accrued sick time. In Massachusetts, where the measure won 80 percent of the vote, businesses with fewer than 10 employees are exempt; businesses with 11 or more workers are required to provide 40 hours of paid sick leave to each employee.

The proposal asks Congress for $2.2 billion for nationwide implementation.

"It's just like the minimum wage. There's that ripple effect to everything."

Already, restaurant groups are coming out against the proposal, citing tight financial margins. Goran Streng, chef and owner of Tango Contemporary Cafe, which has 25 employees told a local Hawaiian news station that the added cost to him as an employer would affect his menu prices. "It's a very tight margin. Any little thing is going to make a difference," he said. "It's just like the minimum wage. There's that ripple effect to everything." Meanwhile, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association Gregg Fraser told the news station that the added costs of offering employees paid sick leave could "add to the already staggering number of restaurants that go out of business within the first year of operating." He said in a statement, "It's my opinion that it should be left up to the individual business owner to decide what benefits are offered."

Paid sick leave has been in effect in New York City since last July. Chefs and restaurateurs had mixed reactions to the new law when it was first passed. Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance then told Eater NY that he supported the idea of paid sick leave, but didn't think businesses could survive under the burden of one more expense. He proposed another option to cover the costs: "When it came to paid sick leave, one of our suggestions was that it could be administered by state government, similar to other social benefits like insurance where the employer and the employee both contribute a percentage." If Obama's proposal passes, it sounds like the federal government will help with some of the financial burden, but as with minimum wage and universal healthcare, government sanctioned paid sick leave could yield increased cost of goods for diners across the country.