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Portland Residents Weigh In On Proposal To Require Paid Sick Leave For Workers

A proposal to require paid sick leave for Portland workers brought supporters, opponents - and some in between - to City Hall last night, for the final public hearing on the issue.Several supporters cast it as a public health issue, saying that many on a tight budget will go to work even when sick because they can not afford to lose the income.

"You might think it's disgusting that we're making your food and making your drinks while we have a contagious illness, and you're right," said Chase Carus, a barista and food delivery worker. "But you can't blame the workers. Not only is there pressure from management to come in no matter what. But missing just one day of work, might mean not making the rent, or not having the money for groceries."

The measure would require city employers to offer workers at least an hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Several business owners complained that the proposal goes beyond similar measures in other jurisdictions, including what they see as an overly broad definition of the reasons an employee can claim the time off.

But Margaret Schmitt, an administrator at Maine Medical Center, says the city policy would unduly restrict workers’ ability to use the flexible paid-time off they receive as they see fit, by requiring that five days could only be used for health reasons.

"Those who are rarely sick would be especially penalized. The younger generation we employ wants autonomy over their destiny. It's my job to attract new nurses to the hospital, and this is the standard in the industry, this flexible-type time off. And frankly, employees want that."

The councilors postponed a final vote on the measure, in deference to absent member Pious Ali who supports the measure and had requested a chance to cast his vote.

Several in the audience asked the council to further postpone the vote - anticipating action at the State House in Augusta that could impose a paid sick leave mandate statewide.