Maryland faith leaders on Monday joined the swelling ranks of sick-leave advocates backing legislation to require employers in the state to pay workers for time off when they are ill — a proposal that has languished in Congress but found limited success at the state and local levels.
Christian and Jewish clergy, speaking to nearly 100 people at Baltimore’s St. Ignatius Church, called on lawmakers in Annapolis to support the sick-leave bills that Maryland Senate Majority Leader Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) and Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) plan to introduce during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Wednesday.
Advocates for sick leave say the working poor suffer most when they don’t have the benefit, making tough choices about whether to work through illnesses or stay home without earning the wages they need to support themselves and their families.
“Sick leave cannot be viewed solely from the perspective of dollars and cents,” Baltimore Archdiochese Bishop Denis Madden said. “It must be viewed as a necessary contribution to the dignity, health, livelihood of workers and their families.”
The measures from Pugh and Clippinger would mandate that businesses with 10 or more employees provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.
Opponents argue that such requirements can hinder small businesses, but supports say they benefit employers, largely in the form of savings from lower turnover and reduced spread of the flu.
“All we’re asking is what we want for ourselves,” said Pugh, who owns a Baltimore consignment shop and serves as president of a public-relations firm. “This is our year.”
Two other Baltimore Democrats, state House Appropriations Committee Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore) and Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore), attended the event.
McIntosh vowed to use her leadership position to promote the cause, saying she wouldn’t back down from opponents who raise concerns about costs.
“I don’t want to hear about capital. I want to hear about human capital, what we invest in our people,”she said, drawing applause.
Proponents say legislative leaders are unlikely to seek a floor vote on paid sick leave unless they have veto-proof majorities, because Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has promised to limit regulations and create a more business-friendly environment.
Such legislation died at the committee level last year despite having 77 co-sponsors in the House and 22 in the Senate — eight and seven votes short of veto-proof majorities, respectively.
Pugh urged the audience to focus its advocacy efforts on lawmakers who are undecided about sick-leave legislation this year.
“Go to the folks who aren’t with us,” she said. “Send them letters, send them emails, all of the social media — do everything. Our community is depending on you.”
At the federal level, proposals for paid sick leave have failed in the Republican-controlled Congress, despite strong support from the Obama administration. Advocates in recent months have increasingly focused their efforts on localities, finding success with legislation in Montgomery County but failing to push through a similar policy in Prince George’s County, where officials said the state should act first.
Working Matters, a Maryland advocacy group leading efforts to promote sick-day legislation throughout the state, shot video testimonials from supporters at Monday’s event. The organization plans to send the messages to lawmakers and blast them out on social media to promote their cause.
More than 720,000 workers in Maryland lack paid sick leave, according to Working Matters.
Amanda Rothschild, who owns Charmington’s cafe in Baltimore, said she offers the benefit to her full- and part-time employees.
“I can tell you that as a new business, as a small business, that it’s possible,” she said. “It’s something that actually makes a business stronger.”