The Portland City Council voted 5-4 Monday against enacting a local ordinance that would have required every city business to provide earned paid sick time to its employees.

Councilors had been working for about 15 months on the ordinance first brought forward by the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Southern Maine Workers Center.

But a majority of councilors voted against the proposed ordinance, saying they were assured a state bill to establish a statewide paid time off policy would pass – perhaps as soon as this week.

“I think our city should stand down and allow that compromise to go forward,” City Councilor Jill Duson said. “For me, the worst case scenario is that we have two systems.”

Advocates for the earned paid sick time have filled pubic hearings in recent months in support of the ordinance. No comment was allowed Monday night, but several supporters were clearly disappointed with the vote. Several loudly encouraged each other to “vote them out.”

Supporters lamented the time and effort that had gone into getting the ordinance before the City Council, and noted that it had been unanimously recommended by the council’s Health and Human Service Committee.


“We are not giving up, however,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “We will continue to work until low-wage workers no longer have to choose between the time they need to get well or the paycheck they need to make ends meet.”

Before the vote, Mayor Ethan Strimling urged the council pass the ordinance, saying that the state bill would leave 9,000 Portland workers unable to earn paid sick time, because it excludes businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

The state bill would allow workers to earn up to 40 hours of paid time off a year. And that time could be used for things other than sickness. Portland’s ordinance, however, would allow workers to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers would be able to use 40 hours, but only for illnesses or to care for a family member.

The state bill, which was recently rewritten with the help of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, also would preempt municipalities from creating their own ordinances. There is a push to remove that preemption and Strimling said that passing a local ordinance would help that effort.

“If we don’t pass this tonight, the state will pass the preemption and then the game is over,” Strimling said. “The bottom line is 9,000 workers in the city of Portland won’t get time off to care for their loved ones.”

In addition to the state legislation, some councilors were concerned about the impact on companies that already offer paid time off. The committee had struggled with language to exempt paid time off policies, but in the end there was no consensus that the ordinance as written would do that.


City Councilor Brian Batson introduced a last-minute amendment to address the issue, but councilors didn’t feel as though they had the time to vet it.

Although councilors were told that they could amend the ordinance later to address any issues that came up, it wasn’t enough to garner support.

“That is a huge issue,” City Councilor Justin Costa said, noting that any error could jeopardize existing benefits for tens of thousands of workers in Portland. “That is a potentially really negative consequence of what we’re being asked to vote on this evening. It’s one that I can’t simply get my head around.”

Costa accused Strimling of using the debate to divide the community. He noted that Strimling has raised funds for his reelection campaign off a “negative depiction” of businesses.

“We’re doing this on issue after issue; we see unity become division,” Costa said. “That is not the way we should be conducting ourselves. We’re better than this.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray, who chairs the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which worked on the ordinance for over a year, also urged councilors to support the ordinance. She said the ordinance was right for Portland.

“If we don’t pass it tonight, it’s a pretty good bet we’re not going to get another shot,” Ray said.

In addition to Ray, Strimling and Batson, City Councilor Pious Ali also voted in support of the ordinance.

Ray, Costa and City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau are looking to unseat Strimling in this fall’s mayoral election.

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