ANNAPOLIS – As Paul Brown walked to work as a security officer in Baltimore one morning, he felt dizzy.
Stopping along the way, he lost consciousness. He thinks he could have better dealt with his clogged artery — and the triple-bypass surgery he needed to fix it — if had been allowed enough time off of work.
Brown told his story at a news conference in Annapolis Tuesday, standing in front of dozens of elected officials, union representatives and reporters.
“I had to ignore my body’s advanced warning that there was a heart attack was in my future,” said Brown, who only gets one paid sick day per year. “…I believe that it wouldn’t have got that bad if I had the time to get those symptoms treated.”
Advocates say this isn’t a problem only for Brown. More than 700,000 Maryland residents do not receive any paid time off when they get sick, according to Working Matters, an advocacy group campaigning for compensated sick days.
Senate Majority Leader Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, is introducing a bill that would allow full-time workers to earn an hour of paid time off for every 30 hours they work, earning up to 7 days of paid time off.
“We have it, here in the state of Maryland, as legislators,” Pugh said. “If we get sick, we still get paid, so all we’re asking is that we do for others what we do for ourselves.”
Delegate Luke Clippinger, also a Democrat from Baltimore, is introducing a similar bill in the Maryland House. He said people on the lowest end of the income scale, the bottom quartile, are most affected by a lack of sick leave.
“The people who are the most vulnerable, the most subject to difficulties when economic times get rough, 75 percent of them don’t have sick leave,” Clippinger said.
A majority of Maryland residents — 73 percent— like the idea of paid sick leave, but that number drops dramatically — to 12 percent — if the sick leave means a reduction in benefits, according to a 2016 poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies. Working Matters cited a 2015 University of Maryland-Washington Post poll that said nationally, 83 percent of people support paid time off for sick days.
House Majority Leader Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, said that mandating paid sick leave hurts small businesses, which operate on very small margins, the most.
“The small businesses that need employees to show up, the abuse of that benefit hurts. They experience additional costs,” Kipke said.
Kipke said that instead of helping working families, these bills actually reduce their employment opportunities.
Clippinger disagreed, saying that when businesses don’t have to train new employees because old ones get sick and leave, it actually helps the economy.
The legislation would only apply to businesses that have more than 10 employees.
Marsha Dabolt, 54, works for a greeting card company. She doesn’t get any sick leave, and she says missing work means not being able to buy food that day, not paying the babysitter or not being able to put gas in the car.
“I’m sick and tired of the people who are against this saying we’re not worth it, saying we are replaceable. We’re not,” Dabolt said.
Erin Yeagley is the political liaison of UFCW local 1994 — a union that represents some government employees in Montgomery and Prince George Counties.
She said that even people who have paid time off are affected by those who don’t. Yeagley said parents send sick kids to daycare if they don’t have time off, and restaurant workers prepare food while ill if they are worried about losing their jobs.
“The whole society will be healthier when people can stay home and take care of themselves while they’re ill,” Yeagley said.
Last year, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposed a bill for paid time off, but this session, Vice President of Programming and Communications Jessica Palmeri said she has not seen the bill.
–CNS Correspondent Connor Glowacki contributed to this report.