A paid-time-off ordinance first proposed in September 2017 by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling could be a benefit for as many as 19,000 workers in the city.

It could also add 19 cents over the next three years to the city property tax rate of $22.48 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The ordinance, which would require all public and private businesses to provide employees an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, with up to 40 hours available annually for personal and family reasons, will have a council hearing at 5:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall.

A council vote could be pushed back to April 22, however, because Councilor Pious Ali will miss Monday’s meeting. It would take effect 180 days after passage.

Under the ordinance, accrual of time off would begin at hiring, but employees would not be able to use the time until 70 days after they are hired. Employees who work fewer than 120 hours annually would be excluded.

Strimling worked with the Southern Maine Workers Center and Maine Women’s Lobby to develop the ordinance. The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce has opposed it. Portland Buy Local has not taken a stance.

An April 16, 2018, memo from Maine Center for Economic Policy analyst James Myall for the SMWC concludes that the ordinance could help 19,000 employees, 10,600 of them part-time workers unlikely to accrue the full 40 hours at one job.

Myall drew his conclusions from federal and state data that determined there are almost 67,000 workers in the city, including almost 27,000 in part-time jobs. He also concluded the cost to employers would be offset by reduced turnover, higher productivity and fewer workplace injuries.

Implementing the policy in city government was projected to cost as much as $526,000 initially and $470,000 in the two following years by city Finance Director Brendan O’Connell, leading to the potential tax increases.

In a March 13 memo, O’Connell said the additional costs this year derive from $214,000 in payroll-related expenses, $211,000 in new staffing to enforce the ordinance, $67,500 for advertising and educational outreach, and $34,000 in costs passed on to city vendors.

O’Connell estimated the city would have to add an investigator, one support staffer and a half-time attorney to investigate claims, although the city’s enforcement of the ordinance is limited to supporting private court claims made against employers.

Last year, Dr. Kolawole Bankole, Portland’s Public Health Division director, said the ordinance could help increase productivity by reducing influenza rates and emergency room visits.

Owners of the nightclub Aura and the Think Tank working space have supported the ordinance.

A common reaction at city businesses is that employees who could benefit from the ordinance are reluctant to say so because their bosses may object to it.

By the same token, several business managers and owners unhappy with the ordinance declined to talk on the record, for fear of potential backlash.

On Congress Street, Speckled Ax owner Matt Bolinder posted a sign supporting the ordinance in his window, but said his advocacy comes with some reservations.

“It is important for employers to do what they can to support staff,” he said on March 29. He has implemented a paid-time-off policy that mirrors the ordinance.

In business for six years, with nine employees, Bolinder said he understands the pressures his workers face, especially high housing costs.

“But (paid time off) costs real money and is something I have to budget for,” he said. “I had to look for a while on how to make it work.”

Last Tuesday, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Quincy Hentzel said the scope of the ordinance is too broad.

“To prove compliance, those who offer PTO benefits will need to carve out and account for sick time separately from PTO, to ensure every employee actually has five days to use for sick time,” she said.

David Harry can be contacted at 780-9092 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: DavidHarry8.

 

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