Portland councilors weigh costs, polling on paid leave

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PORTLAND — Courtney Lewis and her husband work six jobs between them. On June 7, she said, paid time off would help them raise their two children.

“If I have to leave because I am sick, it is on my own dime,” she said, noting her husband gets paid time off when he is teaching.

Lewis is among the 19,000 city employees the Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates do not get any paid time off.

Yet before the City Council Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, led by Councilor Belinda Ray, met Tuesday to discuss an ordinance requiring paid time off, it learned the ordinance might have cost the city $374,000 this year.

It also had the results of two polls showing varied results on how paid time off is offered by private businesses.

As proposed, the ordinance would require employers to provide one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked by employees, whether they are part or full time.

Paid time off would accrue at hiring, and be available no later than eight days after it is earned, with a maximum of 48 hours annually. It could be used for personal or family reasons.

Ray said June 6 the ordinance is not likely to be forwarded from the committee to the full council until the fall.

In a May 22 memo to the council, city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell said paid time off requirements would have added $107,000 in payroll costs, $210,000 for staffing needed to enforce the law, $25,000 to $80,000 for outreach, education and outside legal counsel, and $32,000 passed on to vendors used by the city.

An online poll conducted by the city and Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce showed 64 percent of 132 respondents offered paid time off, but 74 percent of 129 respondents opposed the ordinance.

The Chamber and Mayor Ethan Strimling have quarreled over the need for the ordinance, which Strimling first brought to the council last November.

On Tuesday, Hentzel said in an email the Chamber opposes the ordinance.

“At this stage of the process, we have not developed suggested changes to the ordinance,” she added.

Portland Buy Local CEO Mary Alice Scott said in April that the organization with more than 450 members will not take a stance on the ordinance.

The Buy Local survey drew 174 responses, with 79 from business owners. It showed 60 percent of owners, including those who are not Buy Local members, do not offer paid sick time to employees, while 58 percent of 170 responses favored the ordinance.

Lewis said the personal benefits are not the only consideration for paid time off.

“I see the books and the numbers, and I’m sensitive to my boss taking the business where she would like to go,” Lewis said. “I would imagine a lot of employers would (offer it) if they could.”

Some business owners offering paid time off, but not as much as the ordinance requires, were reticent to speak on the record. Adele Ngoy said providing paid time off for her staff at Antoine’s, a Congress Street tailor shop, is what she always wanted when working for other companies.

“The way I want to be treated is the way I want to treat my employees,” she said.

Noah Defilippis and his wife, Amy Theh, own Pinecone & Chickadee, a gift shop on Free Street. The couple also relies on three part-time employees, and Defilippis said it would be no problem if the city mandated the private paid time off.

“I am of the idea it would not be challenging,” he said June 7. “If it kills your business, you are not doing it right.”

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

Adele Ngoy, owner of Antoine’s Formal Wear and Tailorshop on Congress Street in Portland, on June 7 said she provides paid time off for her staff because it is something she always wanted when she was working at other places.

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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.