By Becca Heller
Armed with statistics and touching personal stories, dozens of witnesses stepped forward Wednesday to endorse and oppose the Maryland Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act, which would mandate all Maryland employers give full-time employees up to seven days of paid sick leave.
On one side, individuals and labor coalitions demanded fair business standards and rights for workers. On the other, small business owners and business groups projected dire economic consequences.
The bill, in conjunction with a proposal to raise the state minimum wage, put workers’ rights center stage at the House Economic Matters hearing.
Proponent: paid sick leave is human right; small business owners object
“[Paid sick leave is] not just a right that should be issued to employees, it’s really a human right,” said Busboys and Poets Owner Andy Shallal. “We wouldn’t have child labor restrictions today if we allowed businesses to make their own rules.”
However, business owners said their freedoms and rights are equally threatened.
“It frightens me,” said Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist whose clients include Safeway and ACE.
He objected to the fact that it applied to all employees, even if the business is a small office like his with only four employees.
Small business owners denounced the mandate.
“In my nature of business, it’s going to cause me to have to raise prices for customers, it may even cause me to change how much I can pay my employees,” said Frank Eberle, the owner of a local auto service center. “The end result will be that it will cost consumers tremendously.”
Poor, hardworking should be considered
Proponents of the bill appealed to delegates to regard the poor and the hardworking when considering the initiative. Several witnesses said it is important for parents to stay home to take care of sick children, while others spoke of the difficult choices workers face when on the brink of debt.
“If I miss a Friday shift, that’s my car payment,” said one witness who identified himself as a local server. “If I miss an entire weekend, that’s my mortgage.”
Law grants one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked
Small business owners reminded the panel that they, too, have worries of financial stability.
“I like to treat my employees well,” said Ken Quasney, owner of AutoSense. “I pay them $33 an hour and I already pay 3 days a year of sick leave...but to mandate me to do this? It’s going to hurt me.”
The proposed law grants one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a full-time employee able to earn up to seven sick days a year, or 56 hours.
Quasney estimated that the total annual costs would be $25,000 to comply with the bill. That number is based on his calculation that it would cost him $11,088 to pay for 56 hours for each of his six employees, combined with lost productivity estimates.
“My question is, where’s that money going to come from?” Quasney said.