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Advocates and workers rally in Portland in support of mandatory paid sick leave

By Caroline Losneck, Maine Public
CAROLINE LOSNECK | MAINE PUBLIC | BDN
CAROLINE LOSNECK | MAINE PUBLIC | BDN
People gather in Portland to rally in support of citywide mandatory paid sick leave, Sept. 4, 2017.

Ivan Marrinson marched with other labor advocates and workers through downtown Portland on Monday holding sign saying “Honk if You Are a Caregiver.” Marrinson said his mom is a caregiver in Burlington, Vermont. While she receives earned paid sick time, Marrinson said this needs to be offered to everyone throughout the country and in Portland, where he lives.

“I made this sign to represent her and all other caregivers,” Marrinson said, while behind him, the crowd chanted “Paid sick days is what we need. Human need — yes indeed.”

The Labor Day rally and march kicked off a campaign that aims to require all employers in Maine’s largest city to provide earned paid sick leave for employees. About 150 people attended the rally and march — organized by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, Maine Women’s Lobby and other groups — in support of the proposal. If enacted, Portland would join the ranks of dozens of other cities, including Washington, D.C., Seattle and San Francisco, with mandatory sick leave ordinances.

The announcement by workers rights groups and their supporters comes after the Maine Legislature failed to enact an earned sick time law in its last session. The proposed ordinance for Portland, organizers say, would allow workers to accrue up to six paid sick days a year. Earned sick time is a public health and workers issue and that paid sick days less likely to be offered in jobs held by people of color, immigrants and women, say organizers of the Portland’s rally.

DrewChristopher Joy, executive director of Southern Maine Workers’ Center in Portland and organizer of the event, told the crowd, “We chose Labor Day to launch this campaign in order to link the issue of paid sick days the long and rich history of workers organizing for the right to work with dignity. Workers have always organized not just to improve the conditions for themselves but to improve society as a whole. Universal earned paid sick time will improve the lives of workers, but will also improve public health, increase worker productivity and employee retention, and provide an economic safety net for working families.”

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling supports the proposed ordinance. “It’s time for municipalities to step up because our workers can’t be forced to make these choices. Nobody should have to go to work sick, and nobody should have to make a choice between going to work sick,” Strimling said.

He said it is a public health issue, but it goes beyond that. “This is really just a basic human right, but it also makes economic sense. I want the city Portland to be the most competitive city for workers in the state. So if a worker knows that they get a job in Portland that they will get paid time off, whereas if they go to a surrounding town they won’t, I think that will make us more competitive for the best workers in the state.”

Anaam Jabbir marched alongside colleagues from American Roots, a clothing manufacturer in Portland. Jabbir is the head of the union at her workplace. She has paid sick days, but she said she supports everyone getting paid sick days.

“We are voting for paid sick days, and this is a good benefit for employees,” she said.

John Ochira, vice chair of the South Sudanese Community Association of Maine, spoke at the event in support of the ordinance. Ochira immigrated to Portland over 10 years ago, and he said, “As an immigrant, I understood the importance of work well before I moved to the United States. Like many immigrant families, I understood that in order to sustain life in America, you need to work.”

But Ochira said there are drawbacks. “The harsh reality for many immigrants and American families living in the city of Portland is that they are stuck at work, even when they are sick. Many families and individuals in the South Sudanese community — my family included — go to work sick sometimes because they need every penny from that paycheck to make ends meet.”

Behind the proposal are statistics revealing that people go to work sick because they cannot afford to lose pay. Nationally, about a third of working adults say their job do not offer paid sick leave, according to a 2016 poll by NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Southern Maine Workers’ Center said 36 percent of workers — almost 200,000 people — in Maine don’t received any paid sick time at their workplace.

“When it comes to issues of workers rights we need to make progress whenever that is possible,” Joy of Southern Maine Workers’ Center said. “While our state government is a little bit stalled in making progress, and conditions at the federal level aren’t great for workers rights, we need to push for those rights. We think that a municipal level ordinance is a great step forward. We hope that once Portland does it, other cities in Maine are going to do it.”

Organizers said the proposed ordinance will be presented to the Portland City Council on Sept. 18. If adopted, Portland would become the first municipality in Maine to mandate earned paid sick leave.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

 


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