Businesses Say Maine’s Guaranteed Sick Time Bill Comes at Wrong Time

January 14, 2010 - 6:59 PM
Maine would become the first state to enact a law guaranteeing paid sick time to workers if the state Senate president has her way, but several business organizations lined up Thursday to say the bill couldn't come at a worse time as they reel from the weak economy.
Augusta, Maine (AP) - Maine would become the first state to enact a law guaranteeing paid sick time to workers if the state Senate president has her way, but several business organizations lined up Thursday to say the bill couldn't come at a worse time as they reel from the weak economy.
 
Sen. Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell's bill would provide earned sick leave of up to six paid days annually for workers in large businesses and three for those in smaller businesses. Maine's more than 10,000 state workers are already assured paid sick leave.
 
Her office said no other state has such a law, although a dozen other states are considering similar bills. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington have also passed such ordinances.
 
Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, said her bill to guarantee paid sick time to workers in the private sector would help prevent the spread of diseases such as swine flu and avoid costly hospitalizations and emergency room visits. She said advice from government health agencies that sick people should stay home was "very, very cruel" to workers who can't afford to take time off.
 
"There are more than 200,000 private sector employees who lack the basic protection of sick time off," Mitchell, who is also a gubernatorial candidate, told the Labor Committee.
 
While providing an important protection for workers, Mitchell's bill does nothing to stop employers from disciplining employees who fake illnesses to take undeserved time off with pay, said Laura Harper of the Maine Women's Lobby, which supports the bill.
 
Groups representing older residents, family planning advocates and Physicians for Social Responsibility also were among the supporters.
 
But many businesses were solidly opposed to the measure, saying it comes as they try to recover from the recession.
 
Passage would cost the Reny's Department Store chain $166,000 to $190,000 a year, Cynthia Lear, a company vice president, told the committee. Because the Maine chain can't absorb that cost, some employees would lose their jobs, she said.
 
"How many more people will be out of work? How many lives will be affected?" Lear said. "This bill has a far-reaching effect on the state."
 
Besides lost jobs, employers would be forced to cut back on vacation days, wage increases and health insurance coverage to make up for the additional expenses that would result from the bill, said David Clough of the National Federation on Independent Business.
 
"Let small business do what they do best - put people to work, create jobs - but don't burden them with a costly new unfunded mandate and more government control of the workplace," said Clough, who called the bill "a job killer."
 
Critics also said the bill was too ambiguous in several areas, such as whether seasonal workers would be covered and whether earned sick time would accumulate year after year.
 
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and groups representing restaurants, hotels, hospitals, builders and contractors also lined up in opposition.