Denver Paid Sick Leave Initiative: Opponents rally to support Denver's hospitality industry

Categories: News, Politics

no on 300 rally cropped.jpg
Big pic below.
This morning's No On 300 rally rally in Skyline Park brought out approximately seventy representatives and supporters of the hospitality industry, everyone from five crop-topped Hooters employees to three much more conservatively dressed Denver City Council members.

But everyone in the group sported the plain but aggressive "No On 300" signs that have popped up in Denver restaurants lately.

The hospitality industry's opposition to the Paid Sick Leave Initiative centers on frustrations with the proposal's vague wording, which tips the advantage in favor of employees rather than business owners. If approved, for example, the bill would guarantee paid sick leave to any full-time employees for up to three days -- without an excuse.

For a restaurateur, the problem is very stark. "Imagine showing up to work and there are no other employees behind you," says Leigh Jones, owner of Jonesy's Eat Bar and the incoming president of EatDenver, a group representing sixty independent restaurants. "Initiative 300 allows that. I know from experience that it's very scary to open a small business, and this will only make it harder."

No on 300 rally.jpg
Kelsey Whipple
Snooze owner Adam Schlegel speaks in front of this morning's No On 300 rally.
The majority of the anti-300 fight has been staged by the city's hospitality industry, which has adopted signage and slogans to counter the other side's "No flu on my fries" approach. Although the "No on 300" sign is the opponents' most prevalent symbol, one "No on 300" supporter at the rally unfurled a large, homemade sign that echoed Jones's sentiments: "Kill the mom and pops and the last places to eat will be chain and box."

"There's no stereotypical restaurant owner," says Stephanie Bonin, who owns Duo and Olivéa with her husband. "We are all shapes and sizes, genders and races and, most importantly in this forum, political affiliations. Initiative 300 was designed without our input."

The "No On 300" rally was one of a handful of recent steps as the November 1 election approaches. Last week, the pro-300 Campaign for a Healthy Denver presented the Model Denver Healthy Business Award to the Hope Center for its commitment to providing sick days and maintaining health in the workplace.

According to research released by the Bell Policy Center this morning, more than four out of every ten private-sector employees in Denver do not have paid sick leave. Research conducted by the Institute of Women's Policy Research suggests that 72 percent of the city's restaurant workers don't have paid sick leave, says Jenny Davies-Schley, principal of Progress Promotions, LLC.

And then there's the initiative's potential impact on this city's ailing economy. "It makes our small businesses less competitive with other neighboring municipalities," says Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman, one of six Denver City Council members who signed a letter siding with No On 300 last week. "I think we'll lose jobs under the mandate, and it requires the city to go in and monitor the entire operation."

The resulting toll on the city budget adds up to an estimated $700,000 each year. "The city isn't prepared to take this on, and it has never done anything like this," Susman says. "I've spoken to the supporters of Initiative 300, and they've related the success of similar initiatives in other cities, but it's not anything like this."

Susman is hoping that the initiative will be voted down in November, allowing Denver City Council and other city leaders to take a different approach to paid sick leave, one that takes advantage of ideas she has learned from both sides of Initiative 300.

"I would hope that any possible future attempt would come through the council and the state and have a lot of deliberation, that the affected groups themselves would have a chance to craft a more effective measure," Susman says. "I would hope it'd be statewide."

More from our Politics archive: "Denver Paid Sick Leave Initiative: City Council majority condemns 300."

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Restaurants will tell the public that they don't make their employees work sick, but its simply not true. If you don't get your shift covered, you have to come into work, sick or not. People work sick all the time and in return get other employees sick, its a vicious circle. If the restaurant industry is opposed to this initiative, they should come up with their own initiative that suits their needs better. Instead of sending the message, we don't care if you're sick and we shouldn't have to work around it, propose a plan that shows you do care, but wouldn't be such a burden to business. In the past businesses also thought they wouldn't make it with standard work weeks or minimum wage practices. We all deserve to be healthy, even without a doctor's note!


I totally question the ability of Denver's awful bureaucracy to manage this program and understand restaurant owners' fears of having to pay sick time.  That being said, as someone who spent a good deal of time in food service, that industry has the worst culture when it come to calling in sick.  Employees who wake up with the flu are expected to call a list of off duty servers and get shifts covered.  If that doesn't work and the server has to call in sick with no backup, this often leads to punishment including getting demoted to bad shifts and/or firing.  Of course, management will never say that they're firing you over calling in (as that would be illegal), but every staff member knows the score.  And this has been the case at every single restaurant I've worked at, from dives up to much nicer joints.  It's totally bullshit, and something that really needs to be addressed.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Interesting point of view. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Congrats.


I agree and disagree, you see if you have the flu chances are you might have to visit the doc. So I always presented a note and never ever had any issues. There is a stigma with the industry that servers are... well... irresponsible. Drinking late after shifts and rolling out of ben hungover, so when is sick REALLY sick? I remember being hit up allt he time form m y "sick" coworkers because they drank to much or wanted to go to a party... I'm not voting for it, no way. It's just not good for business.


I agree in a way.  It really pissed me off when forced to cover for a hungover co-worker.  But a Doctor's note?  Come on... not a single non-corporate restaurant in the state provides health coverage for servers.  I had a health plan I paid for myself, but it covered catastrophic events and like 2 office visits a year (with massive co-pays).  The problem is that restaurant owners want it both ways.  I agree this particular initiative is probably bad for business, but restaurants are notorious for providing fend for yourself environments.

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