Meyners considers paid family leave and medical leave proposals

In the months before her mother died of lung disease in February, Regina Rooney moved in to care for her mother. She said it was her only option. She didn’t have time to process the institutionalization of her mother, nor could she afford to hire round-the-clock care.

“In short, even with all the privileges of a childless, middle-class dual-income household, our options were limited,” Rooney said. “Helping my mother stay home was the only realistic option, but I still couldn’t afford two mortgages without two incomes. is.”

Rooney was able to take advantage of 12 weeks of paid family leave through her work with the Maine Coalition to Fight Domestic Violence. But she and others who held a rally in her statehouse on Thursday argue that such favors shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be available to everyone.

“Maine is the only state in New England that doesn’t have any form of paid family leave,” said Democratic Senator Matty Daughtry. “We’re an outlier.”

She is one of the main proponents of legislation establishing a national program. Daughtry said her experience in both providing end-of-life care and relying on her family to care for her own medical problems helped create her program for Maine. Motivated, she said. If successful, Maine will join more than a dozen other states with such programs.

“We know we need to hire more people,” Daughtry said. “We know Maine businesses need to compete locally, nationally, and globally. , I also know that what they are looking for is not just something, work is money.”

The proposal would allow employees to take up to 12 weeks off after the birth of a baby to care for an adopted or foster child, or if they or a loved one has a serious health condition. Victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are also entitled to leave. Compensation will be tiered, with employees receiving between 75% and 90% of their salary, but no more than the state’s average weekly wage. The program is funded by payroll contributions of up to 1%, split 50/50 between employers and employees. Employers with fewer than 15 employees will be exempt, but workers will still have to pay their share to be eligible for the program.

Democrat Rep. Kristen Cloutier told a crowd in the Capitol that “many of the leaders I’ve spoken to in other states are actually in awe of the state’s commitment.” .

She is another lead proponent of the bill, which was enacted on the recommendation of the state commission responsible for developing paid family and medical leave programs. Cloutier and Daughtry said they then solicited feedback from hundreds of companies and individuals and incorporated it into the proposal.

“We have the potential to pass the most supportive and most comprehensive paid family and medical leave policies in America,” Courtier said.

But while the bill contains compromises, it is not sufficient for large corporate groups to participate.

“We support the idea of ​​paid family medical leave as public policy in this state, but we just don’t support this version,” said Peter Gore, a consultant with the Maine Chamber of Commerce. .

Gore said there is a huge administrative burden for small businesses to track payments. And the current labor shortage is likely to get worse, he said.

“People are paying for this system,” he says. “They will want to use this system. Companies, especially small businesses, already have huge labor challenges. Will you find it?” ”

The proposal is also seen by some opponents as too lenient. Hospitality Maine’s Nate Cloutier said workers could take advantage of the program as soon as they earn six times the average weekly wage of about $1,000.

“Let’s say you make $6,000 and you can take 12 weeks of vacation right after joining the company,” he says.

And for seasonal operations, which are only open four months out of the year, they could lose workers for much of the season, Courtier said.

“So if you’re seasonal, you can’t miss someone for 12 weeks during a 16-week season. That’s just not realistic,” he said.

Both Maine Hospitality and the Maine legislature argue that one compromise would be to make Maine’s current unpaid family and medical leave law paid. They argue that companies are already accustomed to the system, making it easier for employers to realize its benefits. Governor Janet Mills has also suggested a compromise. Deputy Chief of Staff Elise Baldacci did not testify on behalf of the governor for or against the bill.

“The goal of this legislation should be to provide the most generous vacation policies possible statewide while recognizing the operational needs of a diverse workforce and employment base,” she said.

Baldacci said the governor wants stronger exemptions for small businesses, a 120-day minimum working day for programs, and a reduction in short-term disability compensation to 66 percent of wages.

Senator Daughtry and Rep. Cloutier made it clear to the committee that they were willing to compromise. However, they said time is of the essence to create a legal solution. Because even if the coalition fails, it has collected enough signatures to put the issue in a referendum next year.

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