Portland councilor: Paid-leave requirement needs more work

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PORTLAND — Although a public hearing was planned Tuesday, Jan. 8, on a proposed ordinance requiring paid time off for employees of city businesses, the chairwoman of the council committee reviewing it said Jan. 2 the bill is not ready for the full council.

“We need to get this in a final draft the committee is comfortable with, and we need a fiscal note,” District 1 Councilor Belinda Ray said about the ordinance, first proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling in September 2017.

Ray leads the council Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which was to meet at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall on Tuesday, after The Forecaster’s deadline. She is joined on the committee by Councilors Pious Ali and Brian Batson.

Ray said the committee is not likely to have another hearing before forwarding it to the full council, when a public hearing will precede a council vote.

The needed fiscal note will estimate the cost of extending paid time off to public employees who do not already have sick days, along with the cost of enforcement. It will not estimate the potential costs for private businesses.

Ray said she would also prefer a 180-day period from passage by the full council to enactment, meaning any ordinance might not go into effect until early autumn.

The ordinance draft continues to provide an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours per year, for most workers. The committee has also tweaked how and when hours are accrued.

Employers are offered the option of awarding paid time off in a lump sum at the beginning of a calendar year, or on a monthly basis, when employees working between 37.5 and 40 hours per week would have all their time off accrued within six months.

No matter how it is accrued, new employees would be allowed to use the time off within 45 days of hire, a compromise from the original draft that made it immediate, and a committee suggestion for use after 90 days on the job.

In companies with 10 or fewer employees, full-time employees would still be eligible for 48 hours off annually, but 24 hours would not be paid.

While Ray and Strimling agreed revisions to the draft ordinance had largely strengthened the measure while providing a balance between the needs of owners and employees, Strimling has a key objection.

“The one piece that is problematic is taking away three paid days for employees who choose to work for a company with 10 or fewer employees,” he said Jan. 2.

Ray said ordinance revisions make it less expensive to the city to enforce because staff would only provide a corroborating statement about violations for an employee bringing a civil court action.

Strimling introduced the ordinance while working with the Maine Women’s Lobby and Southern Maine Worker’s Center.

On Jan. 3, SMWC Director DrewChristopher Joy said there is plenty to like in the ordinance, including a wider definition of family that makes it easier for the LGBTQ and immigrant communities to care for extended family members, and the inclusion of seasonal and part-time workers.

The SMWC objects to exemptions affecting licensed per diem workers at health care facilities and businesses less than a year old. The exemption for smaller businesses could affect 8,000 employees, Joy said.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Councilor Belinda Ray said Jan. 2 that an ordinance requiring paid time off for public and private employees is not yet ready for a full City Council vote.

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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.