Sick-leave bill probably stuck in Maryland House committee

Jews United for Justice, along with the African Federation of Government Employees and SEIU Local 32BJ, gathered following a Montgomery County Council hearing in January. Photo by Ethan Miller
Jews United for Justice, along with the African Federation of Government Employees and SEIU Local 32BJ, gathered following a Montgomery County Council hearing in January.
Photo by Ethan Miller

A proposal in the Maryland House of Delegates to mandate earned sick pay appears terminally ill, despite efforts by members of the local Jewish community.

The state proposal, currently stuck in committee, would mandate paid sick leave for employees as long as they work a specified number of hours. The hours would vary depending on the size of the company.

According to a Maryland County delegate, the bill probably will not be voted on for fear there may not be enough votes to override a possible veto by Gov. Larry Hogan. That means employees whose companies do not currently offer paid sick days are unlikely to receive that benefit soon.

Meanwhile, a similar bill in Montgomery County is on hold. “We are not going to take any action” until the fate of the state bill is determined, said Council President George Leventhal.

If the state proposal dies, Leventhal expects the nine-member council to enact its own version this summer. It would likely pass, as it has five co-sponsors.

That proposal would require employees operating or doing business in Montgomery County to provide earned sick and safe leave at the rate of at least one hour for every 30 hours an employee works, with a cap of 56 hours per year. The paid sick leave could be used for either the employee or a family member who needs care. The safe leave can be used by an employee, who, for example, must miss work to go to court to obtain a restraining order.

Rabbi Warren Stone of Temple Emanuel in Kensington believes sick pay “is a basic moral right” that is particularly relevant during Passover when Jews “go from degradation to exaltation” and individually ponder how Jews were once slaves but now are free.

”By not offering sick pay, we are being disrespectful, injuring the whole family,” he said. “We all get sick. We are all caregivers.”

It is “actually bad for business when individuals and families are not supported in their time of need. Better businesses all understand the importance of paid sick leave,” said Stone, who personally wrote to every state senator and has delivered a sermon on the matter.

People should not have to choose between getting paid and taking care of themselves or family members, agreed Ethan Miller, who heads the paid sick-leave campaign for Jews United for Justice. JUFJ staff and volunteers have written letters, lobbied state legislators and helped raised awareness on the issue by speaking out at numerous events. While this organization is no stranger to social action, this issue seems to have a hit a positive chord with people of all ages, said Rebecca Ennen, JUFJ development and communications director.

“I’m watching Jews of very diverse ages getting involved together – this is becoming our most intergenerational project,” she wrote in an email.

However, not everyone supports mandating sick pay. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against it, both at the state and county level. The organization believes requiring additional costs for an employer “at a time when they least can afford it” would hurt business, according to written testimony it submitted to the Maryland government.

The state bill “attempts to address a need for a particular category of employee but in so doing places all employers in the untenable position of struggling to remain competitive in a regional economy,” according to the group’s testimony.

“This mandated approach undermines the legitimate efforts of many businesses to create competitive employee benefit packages,” the Chamber of Commerce stated.

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