ANNAPOLIS — A highly contested bill that aims to give paid sick leave to hundreds of thousands of Marylanders easily passed through the House of Delegates this week by a vote of 84-54.
All 49 house Republicans and five Democrats opposed House Bill 580, which covers both full- and part-time workers for any business with 15 or more employees. If the bill were to pass as written, workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.
Republicans have dubbed this bill the “war on work,” while supporters believe that Marylanders of all income levels should not have to worry about losing their jobs if they get sick and can’t come to work.
Yet, here on the shore, the debate and the concern has taken a different tone since the beginning of the legislative session, as the bill does little to address the fluctuating employee rolls of seasonal businesses, according to critics of the bill.
“This was one of the bills that my constituents red-flagged even before the session started,” said Delegate Mary Beth Carozza. “There is a huge amount of worry locally about what this bill would do to small businesses on the shore.”
Carozza took local concerns to the floor earlier this week and proposed an amendment to the bill that would provide an exemption to businesses which have workers employed for 120 days or less. The amendment was voted down, but Carozza is confident the concern has been heard and hopes it will be strongly considered by the Senate, where the bill is expected to be met with much more opposition.
“What the bill currently offers is a 90- day exemption, but if you look at the summer season in Ocean City, it’s longer than 90 days,” said Carozza. “The 120 exemption for small businesses, like the ones here on the shore, is absolutely necessary for this to work in my opinion.”
Sharing Carozza’s strong opinion on the 120-day exemption is the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association. Susan Jones, executive director of the OCHMRA, penned a letter, which Carozza read on the house floor this week. Jones addressed the measures local businesses would be forced to take if the bill passes as is.
“The 90-day window will destroy many mom and pop businesses as there are more than 90 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” said Jones. “This bill will cause employers who hire for the entire season, giving people work even when it is not busy in the beginning of the season, to only hire for 89 days.”
Carozza called the potential scenario Jones predicted a “perverse incentive” that this bill would force many seasonal businesses to enact if the bill is not altered.
“I think it’s so important that we make this argument now, and make sure the 120 [day] exemption is heard loud and clear before it goes to the Senate,” said Carozza. “The 120-day exemption is completely in line with the exemption granted for employers in the Affordable Care Act.”
Also exempted in the bill are agriculture workers, a fact that Carozza believes should also include seasonal jobs at the beach, but another part of the bill drew criticism from the shore delegate and her Republican colleagues.
“Another disturbing disincentive is also imbedded in this bill is that employees rehired within nine months of leaving employment get their paid sick leave from the prior work period reinstated,” said Carozza. “So in order for the exemption to apply, employers cannot rehire the worker until nine months and a day after leaving employment the previous summer.”
Carozza argues the bill will deny employment opportunities, due to employers being discouraged out of hiring by the worry of the sheer math alone.
“This would have a devastating impact on my business,” said Francis Scott Key Family Resort owner Annemarie Dickerson. “By requiring us to give all staff members accrued sick leave, we would end up giving over 100 seasonal staff members the equivalent of two days off. As you can imagine, we could end up at the end of the summer when we need our staff the most with 200 days off. This doesn’t even include our full-time staff. The fact is we just could not operate if we had all of these call offs in August. It would be a hospitality nightmare to have 20 or 30 staff members call in sick so they can use their sick time prior to leaving for the summer. The cost would be hard to swallow [over $15,000] but the inability to provide service to our guests would be devastating.”
The bill moves now to the Senate side, where, if passed, will then be reworked in conference committee. Carozza’s hope is somewhere along the line, the 120-day exemption for employers is put in the language.
“I could get behind a paid sick leave bill with the 120-day exemption, and a few other incentives that would help our business owners,” said Carozza. “As the session has gone on, the concern has just grown by leaps and bounds about this bill. But, I think if we can somehow get that language in the bill, it would be a major win for local businesses.”