With the Maine Senate poised to vote on a statewide earned paid sick days law, Republicans are scrambling to put forth an alternative that one analysis says would reduce potential benefits for more than one third of Maine’s private sector workforce.
Last week, every Democrat on the legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee voted to move the proposed law sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth) forward for a floor vote.
On Tuesday, the committee’s Republican members, together with a set of industry lobbyists who oppose the bill, held a press conference at the State House to advance a minority report on the proposed legislation. They highlighted an abbreviated list of amendments they first introduced before the committee vote last week.
Millett’s bill, LD 369, guarantees that all full-time, part-time and per diem workers at businesses with more than five employees will be able to accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
Republicans and corporate lobbyists are calling for significant changes to the version that passed in committee, which worker advocates say is an attempt to gut the bill.
Under the Republicans’ plan, businesses with 15 employees or fewer would be exempt from providing any sick day benefits. It would also change the accrual rate to one hour of paid time off for every 50 hours worked.
“I can’t see how exempting that many workers is a compromise,” said Whitney Parrish of the Maine Women’s Lobby, which has long advocated for access to earned paid sick days. “We would like to see a strong, universal policy, but the majority bill is strong policy, giving significant protections to vulnerable temporary and per diem workers who have been traditionally left out of such policies.”
The Republican plan would also exempt per diem workers, a point some officials in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services opposed, saying many of their essential services are provided by per diem workers.
“It’s often suggested that per diem workers are people who like the flexibility of being able to make extra money,” Parrish said. “But we have seen low-income people, especially women, taking per diem work to piece together an income.”
Republicans are also attempting to reduce the ability of seasonal workers to accrue hours and remove workers’ right to sue their employer if they are not complying with the law, instead giving enforcement responsibilities to the state’s Bureau of Labor, which currently has only four employees able to check for violations.
An initial analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that 57,000 Maine workers who would be covered by Sen. Millett’s bill would be denied any ability to earn paid sick time under the Republicans’ plan. With the slower accrual rate, another 133,000 part-time workers would lose guaranteed access to the maximum amount of earned paid sick days set by Millett’s bill.
Millett’s bill is estimated to cover 90 percent of Maine workers.
“All told, 190,000 Mainers, or more than one third of the private sector workforce, would be worse off under the Republican proposal,” said MECEP policy analyst James Myall.
Myall’s analysis of publicly available state workforce data also shows that the Republicans’ plan would disadvantage workers in less well-off parts of the state. In Cumberland County, for example, 33 percent of private-sector workers would fare worse than under the Millett’s bill, while 41 percent in Kennebec County and 47 percent in Androscoggin County would be worse off.
Myall cautioned that the analysis is a conservative estimate of the number of workers affected, as he could not find reliable data concerning per diem workers.
Republican committee member state Sen. Stacey Guerin (R-Penobscot) painted the GOP plan as a compromise, arguing at the press conference Tuesday that “the starting base for negotiations from current law is no required paid sick time.”
Last week, however, Labor committee Democrats pointed out that Millett’s bill is already a compromise.
“The amendment before us is a compromise,” committee chair state Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Manchester) told Guerin last week, referencing a campaign by a coalition of family and worker advocacy organizations, including the Maine People’s Alliance, which has gathered signatures to place a universal earned paid sick days measure on the ballot, without the carve-out for businesses with fewer than 5 employees, roughly 60 percent of Maine businesses.
“Senator Millett has come a long way from where some people would like and where the original referendum language was, which was a universal policy, which would have include everyone with no small business exemption,” Bellows added. “I know some members of my committee preferred a universal policy.”
(Top photo: Phippsburg resident Brandy Staples holds a sign in support of Sen. Rebecca’s Millett paid sick days bill at the State House Tuesday. | Dan Neumann)