Every Portland resident and business should be concerned about a far-reaching and overly prescriptive paid sick leave policy brought forward by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling.  This proposal, if passed, would hurt Portland’s small-business economy and threaten the generous and flexible “paid time off” policies proudly offered by the vast majority of local employers that can afford them.

Portland is the economic heartbeat of our state. From our nationally recognized restaurant industry and growing startup community to our working waterfront to the national and global industry leaders who call Portland home, our city has distinguished itself as a great place to live, work and do business.

We didn’t get here by accident. Over the years, our community leaders from the business world, government and nonprofit sectors have worked together to foster an environment that has turned our city into a shining star on the New England coast. We are community-minded.  We want our businesses to grow and thrive, and we have shown we can do this while ensuring safeguards and support for our citizens and employees. We have great schools, a strong social safety net and an open, accessible city government that is mindful of this important balance.

That’s why we’re so concerned about Mayor Ethan Strimling’s mandated paid sick leave policy.

As the head of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, I have heard from an extraordinary number of businesses of all sizes about this issue. And one thing is clear: Portland’s business community knows how important a proactive paid sick leave policy is to maintaining a healthy workforce. Business owners know better than anyone how crucial it is to have healthy and happy workers to help them manage and grow their companies. Our city leaders should trust our employers to understand this and do what’s right for their business and employees.

But the sick leave policy now moving forward in Portland City Council won’t help either the workforce or the business community. For example, it forces companies to provide paid leave to per diem and seasonal workers, creating a web of complex implementation that many of our small seasonal businesses can’t afford to navigate. And it would force companies who offer flexible and generous paid time off benefits – which employees want – to account for sick time separately from paid time off, ultimately restricting use of time off and moving away from the more modern and desired method of providing time away from work for employees.  That’s bad for business and bad for employees.  And in the end this would all need to be enforced by the city of Portland, which will cost time and money, ultimately borne by the Portland taxpayer.

There’s no question that paid time off, including for sick leave, is an important benefit that provides financial protection to our workforce; and with employment at record levels, employers actually compete for workers through the benefits they offer – like paid-time off policies. However, given the many problems with Mayor Strimling’s sick leave policy, Portland should not rush to pass a flawed Portland-only policy at a time when the Maine Legislature is poised to adopt similar legislation on the state level to address sick leave. Unlike Portland-only legislation, state action would affect all businesses equally, and the state legislation offers more opportunity to achieve a balanced approach to the issue.

The city’s Health and Human Services Committee has spent a good deal of its time on this topic and the discussion has been robust and passionate, but it makes little sense to try to carve out a policy unique for Portland while the state is crafting its own. As the City Council deliberates this ordinance, we strongly urge them to allow the State Legislature’s policy work to move forward before embarking on a costly, complicated paid leave policy that will ultimately do more harm than good.

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