Maine women’s advocates say paid sick days bill is issue of ‘highest priority’

With the State Senate poised to vote on a bill that would guarantee access to earned paid sick days, equal rights advocates joined female lawmakers at a State House press conference Thursday to voice their support for LD 369, saying the policy is particularly important for women in Maine. 

“In the past, I had to make the decision to care for my children, but at the same time risk not being able to afford our bills, or risk my job,” said Lynnea Hawkins, a single mother from Lewiston, who lost her job at a call center two years ago after falling ill. 

“It’s an impossible decision for a mother to have to make,” Hawkins said. “There’s nothing more heartbreaking than staying home from work at the doctor’s orders, only to return to work to find that I didn’t have a job anymore.”

Almost 200,000 Maine workers aren’t currently able to earn paid sick days. Across the country, women are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to paid sick time, as they are more likely to have to take care of sick family members than their male peers. Six out of ten minimum-wage workers in Maine — occupying jobs that often don’t allow paid sick days — are women. 

Nicole Clegg, vice president of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and Whitney Parrish, director of Policy and Program at the Maine Women’s Lobby, explained that the bill is also an opportunity to help women workers get access to health care and domestic violence services.

“The ability to earn paid sick time and to apply that time in instances of illness, as well as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, is an issue of the highest priority,” said Parrish. “The low-wage occupations where workers are least likely to be able to take time off with pay when they or a loved one are ill are those most commonly held by women and people of color, and we need to make sure that workplace policies support these individuals and reflect our values.”

“As a healthcare provider, we do our best to make it as easy as possible to get care because no woman should have to choose between taking care of her health and the well-being of her family and keeping her job,” said Clegg. “I really challenge people to think, ‘What would I do?’” 

“Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to have earned paid sick days,” said Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-York), in a speech that was read by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) in her absence. “As a single parent, it allowed me to care for my young son when he was hospitalized for surgery at six months and then later at twenty-two months. It also allowed me to care for my mom when she was diagnosed with dementia. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to worry about your paycheck while worrying that your child or parent won’t make it through the night.”

(Top photo: Whitney Parrish speaking at the press conference. | Cara DeRose)

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