PM cheers family-friendly paid sick leave bills in Assembly

Progressive Maryland and allied activist groups cheered Wednesday's introduction of bills in both Assembly chambers requiring employers statewide to offer paid sick leave to many of the 700,000 Maryland workers who now have to choose between work and a sick child.

Working Matters, a coalition of almost 150 organizations, has been committed through several years to advancing the Maryland Campaign for Paid Sick Days. Wednesday, Feb. 3, they praised the introduction of the 2016 Healthy Working Families Act in the Maryland General Assembly.

Progressive Maryland is a member of Working Matters, and supported the organization in hearings and testimony as efforts at county-level bills succeeded in Montgomery County but were deferred in hopes of a state bill by the Prince George’s County Council.

Citing the need to protect the health and economic security of working families across Maryland, state legislators today introduced the bills -- SB 472 in the Senate and HB 580 in the House of Delegates -- with solid majorities in both the House and Senate.

Working Matters, in a release, cited testimony at a news conference from those most in need of such legislation, and provided background on the need:

“Far too many Maryland workers must regularly make impossible choices between their jobs, their health, and the well-being of their families,” said lead House sponsor Delegate Luke Clippinger. “Other U.S. cities and states that have implemented modest earned sick leave laws have subsequently seen healthy business climates, minimal costs, lower flu rates and strong job growth. Maryland can do the same.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that more than 700,000 Marylanders cannot earn paid sick days to use when they or a family member are ill. The public health risks are significant. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, infected food-service workers cause 70 percent of all norovirus outbreaks, as food service workers regularly report working while sick because they fear job loss or can’t afford to lose income, Working Matters said.

“I can’t afford to miss a day’s pay to take time off, even when I feel very ill,” said Baltimore security officer Paul Brown. “Low-wage workers like me know the drill: If you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid. This meant I had to ignore my body’s advance warnings that a heart attack was in my future. I didn’t get treated when I should have and it nearly cost me my life.”

Capital News Service (University of Maryland) quoted Marsha Dabolt of Prince George’s County on the need for paid sick leave.

"Marsha Dabolt, 54, works for a greeting card company. She doesn’t get any sick leave, and she says missing work means not being able to buy food that day, not paying the babysitter or not being able to put gas in the car.

“I’m sick and tired of the people who are against this saying we’re not worth it, saying we are replaceable. We’re not,” Dabolt said."

Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford Jr. praised the introduction of the bills and vowed that the organization would lobby vigorously for them as they faced legislative committees that had stalled them in the past. “We’re looking to our representatives,” Stafford continued, “to make Maryland a state where workers don’t have to make this terrible choice between a lost day’s pay and a sick child. [this measure] “will go a long way to protecting not only the workers, but their families as well.  Healthy parents are needed in order to raise healthy children.”

Nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers, a disproportionate number of whom are African American, are unable to earn unable to earn paid sick days, Working Matters said in its release.

“Studies have shown that women in America are paid less than men and in many families, women are the primary sources of financial support. Black women are more likely than white women to be living in poverty,” said Gerald Stansbury, President of the Maryland NAACP State Conference. “It’s appalling that any worker – black or white – in the wealthiest state in the nation should have to worry about losing their job just because they get sick, or need a day to take care of a loved one.”

Specifically, Working Matters said, the Healthy Working Families Act will:

  • Allow Maryland workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven full days (56 hours) of paid sick leave per year.
  • Allow part-time workers to accrue fewer days per year, depending on the number of hours worked.
  • Permit employers with existing paid leave standards to maintain those policies as long as they comply with the minimum requirements of the Act.

“No one should have to risk a paycheck to take care of their health, and no working parent should have to send a sick child to school because they can’t miss even a single day of work,” said lead sponsor Senator Catherine Pugh. “It’s time for us to do right by the hardworking people that keep our state going. This is common-sense policy that will boost families and businesses throughout Maryland.”

Members of Working Matters include business owners, faith communities, labor unions, as well as advocates for women, minorities, children, seniors, and low-wage workers. According to the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO’s newsletter, Union City, “SEIU, UFCW, CWA LiUNA,  MSEA, AFSCME and more are members of the Working Matters coalition backing this legislation.”