Paid sick leave policy leads to local thanks

Next time you get a burger at the Lantern Tap House in Spokane’s Perry District, rest assured it didn’t come with a cough.

The restaurant has enacted a paid sick leave policy for its 10 kitchen employees, prompting immediate gratitude from its cooks and dishwashers, as well as an upcoming visit from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Spokesman Review - Nicholas Deshais - Wed. Feb. 18, 2015

“I think it’s awesome,” said Chris Copenhaver, a cook at the Lantern who has worked in food service for 14 years. “I’ve never had an employer offer anything like this before.”

Murray will be at the pub Thursday afternoon to announce the Healthy Families Act, a bill she introduced to Congress with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, that would allow American workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave a year – an elusive benefit for many low-wage workers.

The bill wouldn’t require companies with less than 15 employees to provide sick time.

Nationwide, 43 million workers don’t get paid sick time. In Washington state, about 1 million workers are faced with the decision of either going to work sick or forgoing a day’s wages.

According to Murray’s office, the American Journal of Public Health reported that the lack of paid sick leave contributed to 5 million cases of flulike illness during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

Seattle and Tacoma have adopted their own policies allowing workers to accrue sick time. Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said he’s working on a local initiative for paid sick leave, but the particulars of the plan are still unknown.

“We’ve talked about a tiered approach,” said Stuckart, who will announce the sick leave proposal when he introduces Murray at Thursday’s event. “Maybe it’s for companies with 50 or more employees. Maybe it’s 10 or more.”

Councilwoman Amber Waldref will help lead the local effort.

“Over this year, I’d like to see us put together a task force to see what this looks like for Spokane,” Waldref said.

Mike Dolmage, who owns the Lantern with his wife, Melinda, said his business could be the template. Dolmage is beginning with sick leave, but he said he hopes one day to offer his 25 employees health benefits and retirement packages.

“We want longevity here. We want people to view this as a career,” he said. “Their lives just aren’t the Lantern. They’re mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. It’s a big burden to miss a day’s wage.”

Dolmage noted that food service workers have a particularly important role in public health.

“Our kitchen staff is in contact with food. We want to have the healthiest staff at the Lantern as possible,” he said. “The confidence our customers have in coming in here and having a good experience and having a healthful product put on the table – to us, that’s priceless.”

Stacey Kerr, head chef at the Lantern, said the sick leave policy for her staff “really warmed my heart.”

“Nobody wants to come to work sick, but it comes down to ‘Will I make rent this week?’ ” Kerr said, “Eighty dollars doesn’t sound like a lot to a lot of people. But it really is.”

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