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Dozens Weigh In On Portland's Proposed Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

Patty Wight
Maine Public
Portland business owner Dave Aceto speaks in favor of paid sick leave at a rally outside Portland City Hall Tuesday.

Supporters of a proposal to create a paid sick leave ordinance in Portland won a victory Tuesday night when a city committee agreed to create a universal policy for both large and small businesses.  But the ordinance has yet to be voted on, and several employers say that a paid sick leave mandate would unfairly burden businesses.As a business owner, Dave Aceto of Arcadia National Bar in Portland says he loses sleep over a lot of things. Did he remember to lock up? Will people come to special events? 

"But one thing that makes me sleep better is knowing that my employees can take time off to be healthy people and healthy workers," Aceto said at a public hearing Tuesday.

Aceto offers paid sick time to his 10 employees, and he thinks Portland should adopt a proposal that would require all employers to provide earned paid sick time - including for part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers. 

Lizzy Handschy also supports the proposal.  She said she's a PhD student and part time cashier at Whole Foods. "Since I began at the job at the end of August four-and-a-half months ago, I still have not earned a full shift's worth of paid sick time."

And Handschy said she's gone to work sick because she couldn't afford to miss a paycheck. 

It's a decision that employees shouldn't have to make, said Eliza Townsend of the Maine Women's Lobby. "So this issue is a public health issue, and it is an issue of social justice and fairness to all workers. "

The draft ordinance put forth by Portland's Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday night would have created different mandates for large and small employers to provide between 24 and 48 hours of earned paid sick time.

Supporters of paid sick leave do not support the two-tiered system. And several businesses do not support any mandate at all.

"We believe that this is a one size does not fit all," said Mark Lannon, the CFO for Cozy Harbor Seafood.  He said it would be a significant cost to implement the paid sick leave proposal, which would come out of other employee benefits. 

Other business representatives said they support the intent of the proposal, but called it flawed.  Greg Wiessner, an attorney at WEX, said instead of paid sick time the city should require PTO - paid time off - which can be used for vacation or sick days.

"PTO is a much more flexible, much more progressive, and much more empowering way to approach these things," Wiessner said.

Alison Briggs, the director of Human Resources at Olympia Hotels, asked the committee to hold off on pursuing the ordinance because the Maine Legislature will consider a bill this session to create a statewide earned paid sick leave law.

"Just wait," Briggs said. "Wait for the state to work on this, involve the business community, and we'll happily and gladly work together to have something that's fair and consistent."

After 72 people testified, the committee agreed to amend the proposal, eliminating the two-tiered system in favor of a universal policy for all employers.  They also reduced the maximum amount of sick time hours earned in one year from 48 to 40. 

But the committee doesn't appear to be interested in waiting for the Legislature to act.  They're expected to vote on the proposed ordinance in February, then take it to the full City Council.