Even before Tuesday’s failed vote on Question 1, the group behind the home care referendum was working on its next effort, a measure that would ensure the availability of paid sick leave for all Maine workers.
The latest potential referendum effort by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance would require all employers in the state to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked – roughly half a day per month – and allow employees to roll over up to 40 unused hours of sick leave annually.
If the measure is successful, Maine would follow in the footsteps of several other states that already require employers to offer paid leave to their workers to recover from an illness or to care for a sick family member.
Since Connecticut adopted mandatory paid sick leave in 2011, nine other states and the District of Columbia have added similar requirements to their labor statutes, although the specific rules vary from state to state.
The Maine People’s Alliance already has submitted proposed legislation to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, taking its first step toward a possible citizens’ initiative that could end up on the ballot as soon as next year. However, Jennie Pirkl, head of the paid sick leave effort and organizing director at the Maine People’s Alliance, said the group is still determining the best approach and may opt to lobby for a bill in the Legislature instead.
“We all feel deeply the urgency of addressing the moral tragedy of workers forced to choose between caring for a sick loved one and keeping their job,” Pirkl said. “We’re still evaluating how best to achieve that goal, whether through a citizen initiative in 2019 or 2020, or through a legislative campaign. Submitting referendum language now preserves all of our options.”
Last year, the Legislature rejected a statewide paid sick leave proposal, which at the time would have made Maine the eighth U.S. state to require paid sick leave. Still, Tuesday’s “blue wave” election in Maine could alter the outcome of a future vote on the same issue.
Portland officials are considering a similar measure that would require employers within the city to provide paid sick leave. Advocates estimate that the proposal would help 19,000 workers in the city, mostly in the restaurant and hospitality industries.
The proposed city ordinance, drafted by the Maine Women’s Lobby and Southern Maine Worker’s Center and being championed by Mayor Ethan Strimling, also would require Portland businesses to provide all employees with one paid hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Portland would be the first community in Maine to adopt such a requirement, but it would join more than 26 other U.S. cities with similar rules.
The initial draft of the proposed city ordinance is being opposed by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, which partnered with the city on a survey of its members regarding the measure.
Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, is aware of the latest statewide paid sick leave push. Paid sick leave is an important issue that could have a significant impact on small businesses, he said, and it should not be settled via referendum.
“An issue like this is one that is properly placed before the Legislature, and that is where the decision should be made,” Connors said.
NOT GIVING UP ON HOME CARE
Maine People’s Alliance spokesman Mike Tipping said the new campaign for statewide paid sick leave does not mean the group is abandoning its effort to provide subsidized home care for elderly and disabled residents in Maine, which was the focus of Question 1.
“We’re certainly not moving on from universal home care,” Tipping said. “I think home care expansion stands a very good chance in the coming Legislature given the contours of this campaign – if not the disappointing conclusion – and the increased awareness of the crisis.”
With 89 percent of precincts reporting as of Wednesday evening, voters were rejecting Question 1 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Despite Question 1’s failure at the polls, overall results of Tuesday’s legislative and gubernatorial races are likely to make it easier to pass legislation that would accomplish similar goals.
Tuesday’s election results will place Democrats in charge of both houses of the Maine Legislature next session and send Democrat Janet Mills to the governor’s mansion, creating a far different political landscape than the current one.
Yes on One campaign manager Ben Chin said the referendum succeeded at putting Maine’s home care crisis front and center in the public discourse.
“Seniors are being forced from their homes every day,” Chin said. “We take politicians across the state at their words that they are now committed to taking real action. We’ll be turning our full attention to the Legislature to make sure that they do.”
The opponents of Question 1, led by Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, declared victory early Wednesday. The group opposed not only the 3.8 percent income tax surcharge that would have been levied against higher-income Mainers, but also provisions that would have required the sharing of home care recipients’ personal information for election purposes and classified home care workers as state employees for collective bargaining purposes.
“Maine voters said ‘no’ to higher taxes on families and businesses, and ‘yes’ to protecting our senior and disabled citizens,” Gilman said. “Maine voters sent the message loud and clear that policies that harm our hard-working families and businesses and our most vulnerable people have no place in Maine.”
Gilman said Maine needs to reconsider the types of legislation that are allowed to be pushed through via voter referendum.
“Deciding tax policy and important issues such as how we care for our seniors and disabled citizens in a one-sentence question on the ballot without thorough debate, discussion and the inclusion of all stakeholders, is not in anyone’s best interest,” he said.
Eliza Townsend of the Maine Woman’s Lobby speaks at a demonstration at Portland City Hall in April in favor of a proposed requirement for Portland businesses to provide all employees with one paid hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. A new proposal seeks paid sick leave for all Maine employees. (Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald)