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April 25, 2018

Employers and employees testify on Portland sick-leave proposal

Portland city councilors heard strong testimony Wednesday supporting and opposing a proposal that would require businesses in the city to give all of their full-time, part-time and seasonal employees as many as six paid sick days per year.

The Portland Press Herald reported the workers testified to having to go to work sick because they couldn't afford to take off an unpaid day. Some business owners said they supported the idea in concept but expressed concerned about thin profit margins, increased costs, potential abuse and loss of better benefits programs already in place.

Maine Public reported that Suzanne Foley-Ferguson, who employs mostly teenagers at her ice cream shop, already has seen her business costs increase by $30,000 from the city's recent boost to the minimum wage.

"You're basically killing me with all these little things, and kids are different than adults," she said, noting that the proposed ordinance was a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn't work for all businesses.

The proposal, drafted by the Maine Women's Lobby and the Southern Maine Workers' Center, would make Portland the first community in the state to adopt a mandatory earned sick time ordinance.

According to a Maine Women's Lobby news release in January, "More than 25,000 workers in Portland cannot afford to take time off if they are ill or if they have a sick loved one because they can't earn even one paid sick day." The release calls the proposed Paid Sick Time Ordinance "a common-sense solution that will not only help reduce the spread of illness, but help keep Portlanders healthier and make sure that a bout with the flu doesn't lead to a financial crisis."

According to a statement from the office of Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, the ordinance would "ensure that all employees working in Portland accrue a minimum of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked (up to a maximum of six days a year)." Employers already providing that amount of sick time will not be impacted by the ordinance.

A Labor Day rally last September kicked off the campaign, calling on all employers in the city to provide earned paid sick leave for employees.

The campaign came after the Maine Legislature failed to enact an earned sick time law in its last session. At that time, Strimling called the proposal a "basic human right" that also makes economic sense. If the measure is adopted, Portland would be the first municipality in Maine to mandate earned paid sick leave.

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