City Council approves proposal to make election days voluntary time off

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Berkeley City Council approved a proposal Sept. 10 to designate statewide election days as Voluntary Time Off, or VTO, for city of Berkeley employees.

The proposal, issued by District 7 City Councilmember Rigel Robinson, intends to increase voter turnout among city employees. Currently, the state of California mandates all employees be given up to two hours of paid leave on Election Day. Under Robinson’s proposal, city employees will be given the option to work on election days or take them off.

“Here in Berkeley, we have the opportunity to establish new best practices, and show how important it is to make civic participation as accessible and flexible as possible,” Robinson said in an email. “Giving our workers the liberty to take the day off on Election Day is an important next step, especially when so many of our city staff live outside of Berkeley.”

The proposal has garnered the support of Mayor Jesse Arreguín, several Berkeley City Council members and the Berkeley chapter of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, 1021.

The proposal came after AB 177, a bill that would designate November’s Election Day as a paid holiday for state employees and require public schools and community colleges to close, was postponed. According to Arreguín, City Council voted to support the bill in February. The bill has yet to move forward since May, however.

Robinson’s recent proposal was approved nearly unanimously at the City Council’s meeting Sept. 10 with the exception of District 1 City Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani.

While state law allows for two hours of paid leave from work in order to vote, this may be difficult for people who do not live in Berkeley and may have to travel long distances and wait in a long line to vote,” Arreguín said in a statement. “I voted in favor of Councilmember Robinson’s proposal because this additional tool provides more flexibility for our city employees to vote.”

The proposal will be sent to the city manager to officially designate statewide election days as VTO days and the 2×2 Committee of the City Council and the Board of Education to discuss city and district policies on holidays.

Andrea Mullarkey, a member leader of Berkeley’s SEIU 1021, said in an email that the chapter “strongly” supports efforts to increase participation in the democratic process.

“For democracy to be meaningful it must be accessible to all and we applaud efforts like this to bring more access to the people who serve the citizens of Berkeley,” Mullarkey said in an email. “Democracy is not a spectator sport and we believe more cities should take steps like this in empowering workers to be full participants in the process.”

Contact Blake Evans and Ben Klein at [email protected].