“a drain” on Illinois business
CHICAGO (AP) — Doug Knight’s family has owned Knight’s Action Park in Springfield since 1930, including himself for 43 years.
The pandemic has been a bear — Knight struggled to keep his doors open, and when they closed due to COVID-19, he pushed to reopen as soon as possible. Inflation was also an obstacle. From inflatable tubes to chlorine for the pools, the prices of “everything we buy” have gone up, and now a new Illinois law represents “another bump in the road” for business owners, he says.
On Monday, Illinois became one of three US states to require up to 40 hours a year of paid time off “for any reason” for full-time employees. Small business owners in Illinois say they know the importance of taking care of their workers, but some see mandatory paid leave as a government-imposed burden.
“If you hit the big bump and go off the cliff, what’s in it for you?” said Ritter.
The law will come into force on January 1, 2024. Employees receive one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a total of 40 hours, and can use the time after 90 days of work.
Knight and his brother, a co-owner, employ mostly seasonal workers who aren’t covered by the measure, but they are required to provide paid leave to 10 year-round workers. The veteran business owner said he’s not worried and will juggle whatever comes next, although consumers will ultimately pay the difference.
However, proponents argue that the policy supports both business owners and employees and that the guarantee of paid leave encourages a healthier and more productive workforce.
“If people have the kind of paid time off they need, they can stay home when they’re sick,” said Molly Weston Williamson, who follows the paid vacation policy at the research and advocacy Center for American Progress.
For business owners concerned the law will create additional burdens amid trying economic conditions, Williamson pointed out that Chicago and Cook County have enacted similar regulations since 2017 and fears of devastating economic fallout have never materialized.
Indeed, “our economy cannot afford not to provide these benefits,” Williamson said. “We cannot afford to pay for people who lose their jobs. We cannot afford to pay for people who are getting sicker because they are not getting the care they need. We cannot afford the impact on our healthcare system.”
Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Peoria Democrat who has backed the law, said as he signed the bill Monday that the law would particularly help low-wage workers who are less likely to have paid time off and who disproportionately black, Hispanic, and women.
“This move gives workers the peace of mind that they can take care of themselves today without worrying about the consequences of tomorrow,” said Gordon-Booth.
Christell Frausto, a co-owner of TequilaRia Wine and Spirits in Peoria, said she sees paid vacations as “an investment” and hopes other business owners will too.
Frausto, 38, said she’s already accommodating employees who need flexibility for emergencies, illness or personal events. Two years ago, she opened the boutique-style store, which focuses on specialty products, including women’s brands and organic, gluten-free, or low-calorie options.
The pandemic is a clear sign that prioritizing workers is a necessary strategy for business owners, said Frausto, who hopes preparing for the law’s entry into force will give them time to budget and prepare.
“You’re part of my team,” she said of her staff. “My interest is to take care of them as much as I take care of my customers. I have to make sure they have a balance between life and work.”
Government mandate is a big concern for Sandy and Dave Schoenborn, a couple who own the Lincoln Theater in Belleville, Illinois. “I’m pretty worried,” Sandy Schoeborn said. “If business doesn’t get better, it will become a liability.”
Paid leave is something workers should earn, not an entitlement to, she said. “I can not say no. When a big event is coming up and everyone decides to take off, I’m in a world of pain.”
Knight, the owner of the Springfield amusement park, said he’s doing his best to look after his employees. “If they have a reason, they can take a day off,” he said.
“The car is broken, mum is sick, I have to take the dog to the vet… that’s all important to the staff. But you can’t close your shop because everyone wants to leave because there’s a concert,” he said.
The pandemic, inflation, utility prices — “it all seems to be piling up,” and mandatory paid leave is now another hurdle for business owners.
“It just drives up costs, drives up prices, and the consumer foots the bill,” Knight said. ____
Savage is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.