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

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."

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."