In her Maine Voices op-ed Wednesday, Quincy Hentzel, president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, repeats the same tired talking points she’s used for the last year to try to mischaracterize and discredit proponents of Portland’s proposed earned-paid-sick-time policy, rather than address the facts. It’s time to set the record straight.

The chamber has constantly preferred to vilify Mayor Ethan Strimling, rather than recognize the leadership of Portland workers who have dedicated years of work and risked their jobs to advocate for a paid sick days ordinance. The proposed ordinance belongs to the Portland community at large – a fact that is inconvenient for the chamber, so they do their best to erase us. Hentzel says that every Portland resident should be concerned about this ordinance, and we think most Portlanders are – they are concerned that workers will continue to go without the safety net of paid time off to care for themselves or a loved one if the ordinance is not passed.

The chamber continues to try to portray the proposal in Portland as somehow rushed or undemocratic, despite three public hearings, 16 months of deliberation and a line-by-line review by the City Council’s Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee, leading to a unanimous vote in favor of the proposal out of committee Feb. 26.

The chamber, Maine Medical Center and other large employers would have you believe that their existing flexible paid time off will be at risk if Portland passes the proposed ordinance. In fact, the language of the ordinance clearly allows them keep their PTO policies as long as workers are allowed to use them for paid sick days. The Portland ordinance would set a floor and not a ceiling for what benefits employers can provide.

Finally, we strongly disagree that Portland should wait for the state to pass L.D. 369, which would provide paid time off to some workers. Portland needs a paid-sick-days ordinance that is geared toward the needs of our low-wage workers: people who are employed in seasonal restaurants, who work per diem in Portland’s social services and who piece together multiple part-time jobs in the tourism industry. These workers are our members, and many of them will be left out of the proposed state law. The Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that of the 19,000 workers who the Portland ordinance would cover, 9,000 will be left behind by the state bill.

L.D. 369 offers workers 40 hours of PTO that can be used for sick time or almost any other use, benefiting an estimated 139,000 workers in Maine. That’s good news. However, the bill excludes businesses with fewer than 10 employees, seasonal workers, some per diems and others. It has a lower accrual rate, making it less useful to part-time workers.

Most significantly, the bill provides almost no protections for workers who attempt to use PTO, including no protection from retaliation. The bill contains no definition of what constitutes the emergency use of PTO, seemingly allowing it to be up to the employer. Our members who have PTO polices are concerned that because of this, paid sick days may not be meaningfully protected.

After reading the proposed PTO bill, one of our members shared with us that they’d had recently had a miscarriage that required them to call out of work at the last minute. They hoped to miss just half a day, but it became clear that the situation was serious and they ended up being out for two days, using 16 of 100 hours of accrued so-called “flexible PTO.” When they got back to work, their employer gave them a warning and told them that they were unreliable. Workers should not be penalized for using their earned PTO in an emergency.

We hope that our state legislators will continue to refine L.D. 369 to make sure that it protects workers’ right to take paid sick time. We also hope they will strike the egregious pre-emption clause, aimed at keeping Portland from passing an ordinance. In the meantime, Portland should finish the work to protect our own unique workforce. The Portland community has asked our government to find a solution that meets our needs. There is no reason to stop that process now.

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