Portland mayor's proposal for paid sick leave heads to City Council

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PORTLAND — Employers could be required to provide up to six paid sick days per year under an ordinance to be proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling.

“It is clear a lot of workers in Portland don’t get this” Strimling said Sept. 1 of the proposed Portland Earned Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance. He said he expects the measure to be forwarded to the City Council Health & Human Services Committee at the council’s Sept. 18 meeting.

Strimling announced his proposed ordinance while gathered with local employers and labor advocates at Aura, the concert venue on Center Street.

“This keeps the community healthier and keeps our people happier,” Aura co-owner Krista Newman said. “So many of my friends have not been able to call in sick if their child has a fever.”

Newman said she has always offered paid sick days and attributes the longevity of her staff in part to allowing them paid time off.

The proposed new rules requiring employers to provide an hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked by employees has a tentative effective date of July 1, 2018. Strimling said he does not expect the current full council to vote on the proposal by the end of its term in November.

He does expect the Health & Human Services Committee, led by Councilor Belinda Ray, to hold a public hearing next month as it considers the proposal, and said he is confident the full council will support the new rules.

If passed, the rules would require employers to provide up to six paid sick days annually; days not used by employees would accrue. There is no requirement for employers to pay staff for unused sick days, but employers who now provide fewer than six paid sick days would have to meet the new standard based on accumulated hours.

The paid sick days could be used for personal or family reasons, although employers could require documentation from employees using three or more consecutive sick days.

In addition, employers would be required to keep records documenting the hours worked and accrued sick time for possible city inspection. The city manager’s office would oversee enforcement of the rules and handle complaints from employees.

Violations would carry penalties requiring employers to pay three times the withheld sick wages and at least $100 more to an employee.

Strimling set a goal of creating the paid sick leave rules in his State of the City address in January, and worked with Maine Women’s Lobby and the Maine Women’s Policy Center, and the Southern Maine Workers’ Center to draft the ordinance.

Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center   estimated the new rules could affect as many as 20,000 city workers, based on the estimate there are 198,000 workers in the state without paid sick days and 12 percent of the state’s workforce is in Portland.

The paid sick time would be especially beneficial to women, who hold most of the low-wage jobs lacking benefits or sick days, Townsend said.

“They are put in the impossible position of taking care of themselves or a family member,” she said.

A memo from Julie Sullivan, senior adviser to the city manager, said she found employees without paid sick leave were three times more likely not to visit doctors for care, and 1.6 times as likely not to stay home if their children were sick.

“This is a moral issue with a pretty simple answer. It provides a basic safety net for families,” said DrewChristopher Joy, executive director of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center.

If passed, the ordinance would make Portland the 30th city in the country to require paid sick leave. There are also paid sick time laws in seven states (three in New England), two counties and Washington, D.C.

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

Mayor Ethan Strimling, Erin Hennessey and DrewChristopher Joy of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, and Eliza Townsend of of the Maine Women’s Lobby advocate for earned paid sick leave Sept. 1 at Aura in Portland.

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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.