Labor activists are pushing for a city ordinance that would require all Portland employers to provide paid sick leave.

The idea has the support of Mayor Ethan Strimling, who plans to introduce the proposal to the City Council.

If adopted, Portland would become the first community in Maine to establish such a requirement. A similar proposal was recently shot down by the Legislature amid opposition from business groups.

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center announced Friday morning that the group, along with the Maine Women’s Lobby, plans to hold a march and rally on Monday – Labor Day – to announce their proposal and kick off their campaign. The group said the proposed ordinance would apply to all Portland businesses and would be presented to the City Council on Sept. 18.

Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said 198,000 Maine workers are not able to take a paid sick day. With Portland accounting for 12 percent of the state’s workforce, she said, the proposed paid sick leave policy could affect as many as 20,000 workers in the city.

“Portland has often led the way on the key issues of our time,” Townsend said, pointing to civil rights and the minimum wage. “We should move forward once again to take care of people here in Portland, to address public health issues, to allow people to earn a living for themselves and their families, to slow the spread of disease, and show that this is possible to the rest of the state.”

The proposed ordinance would allow employees to accrue at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers would be able to earn up to six paid sick days a year. Unused days would roll over into the next year, but employers would not have to pay workers for unused time when they leave their jobs.

The city would be charged with enforcing the ordinance, and the city manager’s office would have to investigate and rule on any complaints within 15 business days. Employers who violate the ordinance would be liable to pay up to three times the amount of back wages owed to an employee, and the city could issue a $100-a-day fine. Employees also would be allowed to bring civil action against their employer for any ordinance violations.

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center issued said the lack of paid sick leave affects workers in the hospitality and healthcare support service industries, making it a public health issue, given the amount of contact these groups have with the public. The group also said it as a race-and-gender-equity issue because people of color, immigrants and women are more likely to have jobs where paid sick leave is not offered.

Erin Hennessey, a staff organizer for the workers’ center, said in a written statement that Hennessey’s single mother lost her job after she got pneumonia because she didn’t get any paid sick time.

“We lost our apartment soon after, because we couldn’t afford the rent,” Hennessey said. “I don’t think others should have to go through that, which is why I support this ordinance.”

Seven states – including Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut – and 26 cities require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, the mayor’s office said.

During his State of the City address in January, Strimling said that he would like to see the city adopt the policy for Portland businesses.

“Making sure that all Portland workers can earn paid sick days is a basic need that will reduce the spread of contagious illness, reduce emergency room visits by workers who can’t see a doctor during work hours, reduce turnover and boost employee productivity,” the mayor said.

On Friday, Strimling said that he’s not sure if the city will need additional resources to enforce the policy if it’s adopted, but he would be willing to provide those resources if needed.

Two business owners voiced support for the ordinance on Friday.

Krista Newman, co-owner of a downtown music venue named Aura, said she always has given paid time off to employees when they’re sick, though she doesn’t have a formal paid sick leave program.

“I think it’s great idea, and for women in particular,” Newman said. “So many of my friends have not been able to call in sick if their child has a fever and they’re struggling for day care in the morning.”

A proposal to require employers statewide to allow employees to earn paid sick time was voted down in the Legislature last session. It was opposed by the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association.

That bill was sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, and would have required employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year, while companies with fewer than 50 workers would have been required to provide unpaid sick time.

While the proposal for a city ordinance also is likely to face opposition, local business groups were still digesting the proposal Friday.

Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, had been alerted about the proposal by members, but said that the chamber was not ready to take a stance on it.

Hentzel said in a statement that Portland employers care about their workers and families and good health helps productivity.

“In response to this proposed ordinance, I know we will be working with businesses to determine the best path forward for everyone involved, and I trust the city, the council and the mayor, who brought this proposal forward, will do the same,” she said.

Portland Downtown Executive Director Casey Gilbert said she would need to talk to board members before taking a stance. Portland Downtown is a group of local business and property owners.

Tom Gangewer, a board member and treasurer of Portland Buy Local, said the group of business owners and citizens will survey its membership before offering any comment on the proposal. “We have 500 members who are probably going to be all over the board about how they feel about it,” he said.

When the state bill was being considered last session, the Maine Restaurant Association opposed the change, saying its members were worried in part that offering a paid sick day would encourage employees to call in sick. That would result in a loss of business for restaurants and increase costs, the group said.

Monday’s march will begin at 10 a.m. at the Irish Heritage Center and the rally will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Longfellow Square. The event is co-sponsored by the Maine Women’s Lobby, the Somali Community Center of Maine, Portland Outright, the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America, the South Sudanese Community of Maine, the Southern Maine Labor Council, the Maine AFL-CIO, Progressive Portland, the Maine State Nurses Association and Homeless Voices for Justice.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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