Portland council to weigh law requiring paid sick leave

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PORTLAND — Philippa Adam has three part-time jobs, none of which provide more than 28 hours of work a week.

When Adam got sick “with the flu or something like it” in February, she said, she took one day off work.

“Then I went to work for two more weeks and pretended I had a cold,” she said Tuesday. “I was trying not to raise concerns with my employers.”

Adam is a supporter of a proposed ordinance requiring public and private employers to allocate an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked to be used as sick time or to tend to personal matters, including care for family members.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, the City Council Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee will hold a public hearing on the ordinance, which was first publicly introduced by Mayor Ethan Strimling last September.

Councilor Belinda Ray, the committee chairwoman, said councilors will not be making any recommendations on the ordinance.

“It is certainly not ready to go to the (full) council,” she said April 12, adding the committee will also discuss the ordinance May 8, when city staff address specific questions about how it is written and its potential effects.

Strimling worked with the Maine Women’s Lobby and Southern Maine Workers’ Center to write the ordinance. 

“This is just better for the entire workforce in general,” Erin Hennessey of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center said Tuesday, noting the specified uses of paid time off are needed to fully ensure its enforcement and monitoring.

Portland Buy Local and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce leaders said the business groups will not or have not yet taken positions on whether the ordinance should be enacted.

As was the case when the city enacted its own minimum wage ordinance in 2015, Portland Buy Local will not take a stance. On Tuesday, CEO Mary Alice Scott said it has researched how many of the more than 450 members provide paid time off, and found almost 56 percent of the businesses do not.

“At this point, the Chamber is not taking an official position on this proposal,” Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Quincy Hentzel said in an email Monday.

Hentzel said “a vast majority” of Chamber members have sick time policies, but members in the hospitality and tourism industries using seasonal and part-time labor were less likely to offer paid days off.

“Many of our members have already expressed great concern about the ordinance and the impact it will have on their businesses, and we are working with them to understand the full impact it could have on Portland’s business community,” Hentzel said.

Those are the workers who would most benefit from the ordinance, Hennessey said, especially if they are stringing together jobs to make ends meet.

“It is a very delicate balance of why I need to go to my three jobs and get paid,” Adam said, adding all of them require her to be in contact with other staff and the public.

In February, an analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy determined as many as 19,000 people do not have earned paid time, but Hentzel questioned the conclusion.

“Many of our members are concerned that the business community was not involved with the crafting of this ordinance, and that the statistical basis of the proposal is not well-founded,” she said. “We are not clear how they arrived at this number as there are just over 65,000 employees who work in the city of Portland.”

In his report to the committee, city Public Health Division Director Dr. Kolawole Bankole said public health benefits include reduced emergency room visits, reduced flu rates, and more productive employees.

On April 12, Bankole said his perspective is from public health only. City Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said his work on the new municipal budget has kept him from a more detailed analysis on the financial aspects of the proposed ordinance.

Earned paid sick times laws are in place in nine states and at least 33 cities, Bankole noted. Included are Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Bankole’s research indicated 70 percent of the businesses governed by sick leave policies “did not experience any administrative burden or difficulty administering the policy, and 70 percent supported the law.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.