Economic Justice - Overview
Paid Sick Leave
UULM-MD has made The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which would provide earned paid sick days for Maryland workers, a Priority Issue for the 2017 Legislative Session and will continue to work with the Working Matters coalition.
The Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland (UULM-MD) supports legislation that would provide a path for all Maryland workers to earn paid sick leave. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is to affirm the worth and dignity of all persons, but four in 10 private-sector workers – and more than 720,000 Marylanders – cannot earn paid sick days to care for their own health or the health of their family members. More than 80 percent of low-wage workers lack access to paid sick days, and over 50% of fulltime Maryland workers who earn less than $35,000 annually lack access to paid sick days. Working women—49% of Maryland’s workforce—lack access to paid sick days 54% of the time, and 2 out of every 10 report job loss or disciplinary action for lost time for attending sick family members. The lack of earned paid sick days feeds the cycle of poverty, and it is the human side of this issue that is most important.
A Public Health Issue
From a public health standpoint, paid sick days just makes sense. A lack of paid sick days exacts its heaviest toll on low-income workers; missing work due to illness can mean being unable to pay for basic necessities, including the health care services that can get them back to work. A loss of just 3.5 days’ pay is equivalent to losing an entire month’s grocery budget. The cost is more dear in families with single mothers, and to Maryland’s African-American population, 24 % of whom live in poverty. Because of the high cost of missing work, many low-wage workers will expose their coworkers and the public to illness when sick. Of great concern for public health and contagion prevention, less than one-quarter of food preparation and serving workers have access to paid sick days. This is a public health issue that affects all Marylanders.
Workers who do not have access to sick leave also expose illness at a greater rate in the schools for the same reasons as in the workplace. In families where sick leave is not available, children are twice as likely to be sent to school/daycare sick and recovery is slower for them. People with low incomes not only suffer from low self-esteem and depression, they have more health problems and live shorter lives than their wealthier counterparts. Their children suffer from poor nutrition, more health problems, do less well in school, and often cost the government more as adults because of their disadvantaged background. Paid sick days and job protection is likewise essential for the 25% of women who need time at some point in their lives to seek assistance due to domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
In 2014, UULM-MD for the first time took on Economic Justice as a priority issue. That year, we supported a bill that would have raised the minimum wage in the state to $10.10 an hour, increased the tipped wage from 50% to 70% of the minimum wage, and indexed the minimum wage to inflation. UULM worked with a broad coalition of more than 60 organizations, known as Raise Maryland, on this issue.
SB 331/HB 295, which raises the minimum wage incrementally, reaching a maximum of $10.10 per hour in 2018, was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley on May 5, 2014. Maryland was the second state to raise its wage to $10.10, at the time the highest rate in the U.S. Provisions to raise the tipped wage and to index wages to inflation did not pass this year.
The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (SB40), a 2015 Priority Issue for UULM-MD, would allow workers in Maryland to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work -- up to seven days a year.
In 2016, the same bill finally passed the House of Delegates but failed to be voted upon by the Senate. Since then, Governor Larry Hogan has indicated that he intends to submit a similar bill, but it would be limited to large employers (over 50 employees) and would exclude part-time workers. Because it would not help those who most need it, we plan to oppose it in favor of last year's bill.
In 2016, UULM-MD also supported the Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill (SB481/HB1003). The bill strengthened the state's Equal Pay for Equal Work Act to reduce barriers to ending pay discrimination and employment opportunities based on gender identity. It passed the Senate 32-13 and the House 106-29 and was signed by the governor.