Chicago becomes first city in the country to offer paid time off
November 9, 2023
CHICAGO, IL – A new ordinance passed today by the Chicago City Council will double the minimum number of paid days off available for Chicago workers, making the city the first in the country to offer paid time off. Through the Chicago Paid Leave Ordinance, workers will gain five paid time off days while keeping their current five paid sick days, for a total of 10 days off annually.
The Chicago City Council voted 36-12 to approve the ordinance today, November 9. This follows a 13-2 vote by the City Council Workforce Development Committee last week.
Alderperson Mike Rodriguez (22nd), who chairs the Workforce Committee and sponsored the ordinance, has called the measure the “most progressive paid leave policy” in the U.S. The ordinance is a core part of the labor agenda for Mayor Brandon Johnson, a former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.
“Access to paid leave is critical for working families who face so many challenges in the current economy,” said LaTanya Jackson Wilson, vice president of advocacy at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “We’re thankful for the leadership and support from Alderperson Rodriguez, the other city council members who voted in favor, and Mayor Brandon Johnson. This is a big win for justice, affecting a workforce that is mostly women and people of color in low-paid and part-time jobs without benefits.”
Lack of paid leave policies harm low-paid workers and their families. Of the lowest paid workers in U.S. private industry, only 39 percent have access to paid sick leave. This is in stark contrast to the average number of paid vacation days (not including paid sick days) for higher paid private industry workers: after one year of employment, they ranged from 10 days for establishments with fewer than 100 workers to 14 days for establishments with 500 or more workers.
The Chicago ordinance will take effect December 31. Starting January 2025, businesses that employ more than 50 people or fewer than 100 people will be required to compensate employees for as many as two days of paid leave if they leave the position. The ordinance carries some weight: Violations could trigger fines of at least $1,000 and no more than $3,000. Starting in 2025, Chicagoans could sue businesses for violations as well.
The ordinance has been revised multiple times in response to the business community’s concerns since it was first introduced. The final proposal ensures Chicago workers can take more sick leave than New York City and Los Angeles workers. They also can take time off for any reason, not just if they or a family member falls ill.
“Chicago is a national leader for workers’ rights, giving flexible time off to the people who make our economy strong,” said Audra Wilson, president and CEO of the Shriver Center. “This benefit means employees can attend their child’s soccer game, take a trip to the lakefront or visit an elderly relative without risking their job or income. The Shriver Center will continue to fight for economic and racial justice here and across the country by changing the rules to change lives.”
The Shriver Center worked on passage of this ordinance as part of a coalition of organizations focused on workers’ rights. Despite continued pushback from the business community, the coalition’s efforts were successful in winning this benefit for workers. Partners include AFIRE Chicago, Arise Chicago, Latino Union of Chicago, Raise the Floor Alliance, the Chicago Federation of Labor, Women Employed and more.
Paid leave has proven to work well for businesses in cities and states across the U.S. Access to paid leave increases worker productivity, performance and retention while decreasing the spread of sickness in the workplace.
The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice. Over our nearly 60-year history, we have secured hundreds of victories with and for people living in poverty in Illinois and across the country. Today, we litigate, shape policy, and train and convene multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders, and activists nationwide. Together, we are building a future where all people have equal dignity, respect and power under the law. Join the fight at povertylaw.org.