Maryland Governor Vetoes Sick Leave. Progressives Declare War.

Bruce Vail June 13, 2017

Maryland’s paid sick leave law would have guaranteed workers at businesses with 15 employees or more the right to a minimum of five paid sick days a year. (United Workers/ Facebook)

BAL­TI­MORE — Mary­land Gov. Lar­ry Hogan ignit­ed the anger of labor unions, work­ers’ rights advo­cates and reli­gious groups when he vetoed high-pro­file leg­is­la­tion last month that was meant to guar­an­tee the right of pri­vate sec­tor employ­ees to paid sick leave. That anger is now coa­lesc­ing behind plans to over­ride his veto and remove Hogan from office in 2018.

The sick leave issue is assum­ing cen­ter stage in the broad­er strug­gle statewide to repel attacks on the work­ing class by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and oth­er pro-busi­ness con­ser­v­a­tives, says Jaimie Con­tr­eras, vice pres­i­dent at Local 32BJ of the Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union (SEIU 32BJ). The union and allied groups are plan­ning a joint cam­paign in Mary­land to force a leg­isla­tive over­ride in ear­ly 2018, Con­tr­eras says, which will then segue into a broad­er elec­toral cam­paign to elect pro-labor Democ­rats at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment across the mid-Atlantic region.

By forc­ing work­ers to have to make hard deci­sions on mat­ters of life or death, finan­cial ruin or sta­bil­i­ty, Hogan is chan­nel­ing the spir­it of Trump right here in Mary­land. Paid sick leave is com­mon sense pol­i­cy sup­port­ed by an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of peo­ple on both sides of the aisle. On Elec­tion Day, work­ing fam­i­lies will remem­ber that Hogan put pol­i­tics above their health and finan­cial well-being,” said Contreras. 

Aside from 32BJ, the union orga­ni­za­tions most active in the paid leave effort have been the AFL-CIO, Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of State, Coun­ty and Munic­i­pal Employ­ees, 1199 SEIU, UNITE HERE and Unit­ed Food & Com­mer­cial Work­ers. Also active have been the Amal­ga­mat­ed Tran­sit Union, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca, Labor­ers Inter­na­tion­al Union, Mary­land State Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion and Nation­al Nurs­es United.

Maryland’s paid sick leave law would have guar­an­teed work­ers at busi­ness­es with 15 employ­ees or more the right to a min­i­mum of five paid sick days a year. Out of more than 2.5 mil­lion pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers in the state, it would have improved paid leave for around 700,000, pro­po­nents esti­mat­ed — only a mod­est improve­ment in work­ing con­di­tions. Yet the law gen­er­at­ed tremen­dous polit­i­cal fer­ment, with advo­cates forced to scale back the orig­i­nal pro­pos­al to meet objec­tions from pro-busi­ness Democ­rats. At the same time, Hogan spoke out force­ful­ly against the bill, assert­ing it would harm busi­ness­es and kill off job oppor­tu­ni­ties for Marylanders.

Hogan for­mal­ly vetoed the mea­sure May 25. His action infu­ri­at­ed many of the bill’s sup­port­ers espe­cial­ly because Maryland’s leg­isla­tive rules will now force them to wait until the leg­is­la­ture recon­venes in Jan­u­ary before tak­ing over­ride action.

It’s shame­less. They (leg­is­la­tors) give them­selves the ben­e­fit of paid sick days, but not to the work­er who cleans the office,” Con­tr­eras says.

It’s real­ly unfor­tu­nate that the gov­er­nor is treat­ing this like a par­ti­san issue,” adds Crys­tal Hall, a cam­paign­er with the Bal­ti­more-based advo­ca­cy group Unit­ed Work­ers. This is real­ly designed to ben­e­fit the hos­pi­tal­i­ty, restau­rant and retail work­ers who don’t get paid leave now. It’s for the low-wage peo­ple who need it most … I don’t think there is much par­ti­san divide among the work­ers at fast food joints,” Hall said.

Unit­ed Work­ers won’t be get­ting direct­ly involved in the 2018 elec­tion, Hall added, but many of the mem­bers of the coali­tion back­ing the sick leave bill will be oppos­ing Hogan’s re-election.

There is a lot of frus­tra­tion out there,” Hall said.

Democ­rats are chomp­ing at the bit to begin the 2018 guber­na­to­r­i­al cam­paign, accord­ing to a recent report from the Bal­ti­more Sun. There are at least eight seri­ous can­di­dates and sev­er­al of them are sol­id pro­gres­sive, pro-labor con­tenders, says Char­ly Carter, exec­u­tive direc­tor at the pro-union Mary­land Work­ing Fam­i­lies. Work­ing Fam­i­lies intends to get involved in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty pri­maries more exten­sive­ly than in the past, she says, with the goal of unseat­ing Hogan and broad­en­ing the base of anti-Trump polit­i­cal activists.

Con­tr­eras tells In These Times that he is on board for the dump-Hogan cam­paign and pre­dicts that sev­er­al pow­er­ful unions in the state will put unprece­dent­ed effort behind it.

With Hogan, it’s all about cor­po­rate inter­ests. He and Trump are on the same page,” said Contreras. 

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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