Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

Martin Luther King Jr. day is one of the most important holidays on our collective calendar. This year, I was unprepared.

This year, instead of rereading his works and reflecting on the call to action, I  reread the dosage information on the backs of various cold medications and reflected on home remedies.

Because I have been sick. Like, down-for-the-count, sleep-all-day, multiple-boxes-of-tissues sick.

I’m going to spare you the grizzly details and just say, never have I been so grateful for paid sick leave.

I stayed home. I stayed home for many days on end.

While this was uncomfortable for me in one sense (I am a gal who prefers to be at work) it was also profoundly necessary. It was necessary for my body to rest and heal. It was also necessary for my coworkers to be spared breathing my air and catching this amazing influenza B/conjunctivitis double whammy I managed to come down with.


For real. I wound up going to the doctor twice – both to get some expert help and to see if I was OK to be around others – and each time I got a “No way! You are infectious, lady!” So, I went straight back to my little quarantined room, turned the humidifier up a notch and went back to sleep.

On my second trip in, the doctor asked if I needed a letter for work and as I shook my head “no,” I realized how fortunate I am. In addition to being lucky enough to have a truly wonderful and supportive boss, I have sick days. I have a contract, negotiated by a union, that secured those sick days for me. I’m OK.

Actually, here in Maine, this is not as unusual as it used to be thanks to Public Law 2019 Ch. 156, “An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave,” which took effect Jan. 1, 2021. There are a few caveats; small companies only have to guarantee leave, not paid leave, and it doesn’t apply to seasonal work, but it is still light years ahead of where we were before.

From an employer’s point of view, I can see where this might be inconvenient, but honestly, it’s only right.

First, there is the human dignity of the sick person, who really does need to just crawl under the covers and get better. Then there are all the people who will avoid being sick themselves, perhaps much more severely, because the sick person wasn’t in their space.

To every person I did not infect with this nightmare, you’re welcome.


Now, circling back to the human dignity angle – turns out, this is where my convalescence does interact with King after all.

In addition to civil rights, King was deeply involved with workers’ rights. It was, in fact, to address a union meeting that King was in Memphis, Tennessee, on the awful, fateful day he was assassinated.

King was a strong advocate of unions, the labor movement in general and of unions and civil rights workers combining their efforts to advance human rights at large.

When invited to speak to the AFL-CIO’s annual convention in 1961, King said, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

So as I drift off again for one more day of rest before returning to work, I give thanks to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for speaking truth to power and challenging us all to do the same.

I also give thanks for all of you out there, working to make each and every day better for those around you. Your choices are what bend the arc.

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