Workers’ rights advocates in Maine have focused their attention on paid sick leave. The Portland City Council is currently considering legislation proposed by the Maine Women’s Lobby and Southern Maine Worker’s Center which would require employers to give all employees paid sick time. The new law would require Portland businesses to provide employees with one paid sick hour for every 30 hours worked. Mayor Strimling supports the bill.
At the state level, advocates are collecting signatures to put the issue of paid sick leave on the ballot next election. This proposal also would require employers to provide one paid sick hour for every 30 hours worked. The Maine People’s Alliance is spearheading the collection of signatures for this ballot measure.
“I’m proud to be part of a group of worker, family and health care advocates who have taken the first step in submitting language for a referendum to guarantee access to earned paid sick days for all Maine workers,” said Jennie Pirkl, organizing director at the Maine People’s Alliance.
Corporate special interest groups have pushed back against paid sick leave proposals nationwide, convincing some states to pass laws prohibiting cities from enacting such laws. “There’s a real pitched battle going on in a lot of places right now between cities that have decided that they really want to protect workers’ rights and workers’ health, and state legislatures that don’t want to interfere with businesses at all,” said Sherry Leiwant, from A Better Balance, a group that supports paid leave. “We’re seeing that more and more, and I think we’re going to keep seeing that.”
The United States is the only developed country without a national paid leave law and almost a third of workers in the United States do not have paid sick leave.
Paid sick leave would benefit everyone. When workers have no paid sick leave, they are often forced to go to work sick. This creates a big public health problem. No one wants sick people to serve them food or work in healthcare facilities but workers in those industries sometimes have no choice but to go to work sick.
Our firm has heard from many people who have gotten fired because they refused to go into work sick and, in many cases, we cannot help them. There are state and federal laws that entitle some employees to unpaid medical leave but many employees do not qualify for leave under those laws. For instance, if an employee has worked for an employer less than a year, they would not qualify for legally protected unpaid medical leave. Also, if the employee’s illness is not serious enough, such as a bad cold, the employee may not qualify for unpaid leave, which is only available for serious health conditions. And of course, some people just cannot afford to take unpaid leave for any reason because they can barely make ends meet with the pay they earn for a full week’s worth of work.
So, paid leave is a huge issue. It would be a great benefit to everyone. Hopefully, Maine and the rest of the United States will eventually provide paid sick leave to workers just like the rest of the developed world.