Credit: George Danby

It is long past time for Maine to guarantee the rights of its workers to earn paid sick leave. Thanks to Sen. Rebecca Millet’s bill ( LD 369), we are right on the verge of making that happen. LD 369, “An Act To Support Healthy Workplaces and Healthy Families by Providing Earned Paid Sick Leave to Certain Employees,” is very close to passing in the Maine Legislature. And when it does pass, our state will take an historic leap toward being a much healthier and more prosperous state for everyone.

As a nurse for 28 years, I am a proud member of the Maine State Nurses Association, the largest union for registered nurses here in Maine. We believe Maine ought to grant the dignity of earned paid sick time to each and every person in our state’s workforce. And we are glad the Legislature is finally taking action on this critically important issue.

Millett’s bill guarantees that all full-time, part-time and per diem workers at businesses with more than five employees will be able to accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, up to a total of 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. This policy will cover nearly 90 percent of workers in Maine. It’s a place to start. And as a union, MSNA has fully endorsed it.

But unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature are trying to significantly water down what we believe is a very good piece of legislation. Along with their corporate lobbyists, the anti-paid sick leave Republicans are demanding certain “ compromises” that would gut this bill and make it ineffective for many of the workers whom it was written to help. An initial analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that, all told, 190,000 Mainers (or more than one-third of the private sector workforce) would be worse off under the Republican proposal.

The Republican plan excludes workers at any business with 15 or fewer employees and makes workers under 18 years old, seasonal workers, and “per-diem” and “on-call” workers exempt from the right to paid sick days, regardless of the size of their employer. This means per diem workers could come to work sick, and could spread illness where they work, whether that’s at a supermarket, a hospital or even a restaurant. That’s not a “compromise.” That’s a potential public health disaster.

But my fellow nurses and I won’t stand for this sort of attack on a bill that we, as a union, have endorsed. Maine nurses aren’t fooled by these Republican shenanigans, and we hope our fellow Mainers won’t be either.

The coalition of organizations (including MSNA) who are supporting LD 369 have already agreed to a very significant compromise: to exempt businesses which employ five or fewer people. Democrats have compromised further, by extending the wait time.

Opponents of paid sick time would be wise to understand their options are limited. They should be mindful that we have enough signatures, in-hand, to launch a referendum for paid sick leave. And in the referendum version of paid sick leave, there is no exemption for any business of any size. We want to go forward with LD 369, but we will launch our referendum if we need to.

When we provide the right to earn paid sick leave to all Maine workers (either through LD 369 or through a referendum), we will afford the people of our state the true dignity of work that everyone should be able to enjoy. And as a consequence, we will also be protecting our entire population at the same time.

I (and the Maine State Nurses Association) urge lawmakers in Augusta to support Sen. Millett’s earned paid sick time bill and to resist any attempts to gut this commonsense legislation that is essential for the health, dignity and prosperity of all Mainers.

Monique Babineau of Millinocket is a registered nurse.