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Consumerism elevates the standards set for customer service professionals to a level harboring at or near absolute perfection. One slight deviation from expected practices or outlandish demands can often result in a lot of huffing and puffing until the all-important consumer adequately feels their grievances have been redressed.

When a consumer encounters a customer service professional who is sick or unwell, it either invokes pity or disgust. There is bound to be that consumer who voices their opinion by asking the clerk or waiter why they didn’t stay home that day.

We can add that to the long list of loaded questions one can ask in their lifetime.

For many people, not going to work is often not an option; especially if they are among the growing number of seniors and parents forced to take up low-paying service jobs in order to afford housing, food, and basic necessities. This is especially true in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the loss of good-paying jobs, and the influx of low-paying jobs concentrated in the food, hospitality, and tourism industries. For a more detailed explanation, read the Maine Center for Economic Policy’s State of Working Maine 2017 report.

This is especially true with Portland experiencing a housing crisis, both in terms of demand for housing, supply, and cost. In its 2017 Housing Report, Portland found that 33% of owner-occupied households and nearly 50% of renters are “cost-burdened” (when rent or monthly mortgage payments exceed 30% of a household’s gross monthly income, as defined by HUD). In addition, it also found that:

Seventy-one percent of renters and fifty-three percent of homeowners are identified as low-income. Forty-three percent of renters and twenty-nine percent of homeowners are considered to be living in poverty. Median renter income is $29,755 and median income for owner-occupied housing was $75,837.

Being cost-burdened in terms of housing is especially relevant, as espoused in Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies report, in which it found that cost-burdened renters are forced “to sacrifice other basic needs, settle for inadequate living conditions, and/or face housing instability… The most significant cutback low-income households make is on basic sustenance.” Furthermore, the report argues, “Housing cost burdens also expose renters to the risk of eviction, with all its damaging impacts on household finances, employment prospects, and school performance.”

For many low-income seniors and families, and for those living in poverty, going a day without work could mean missing a rent payment and facing eviction, or having to cut back on groceries; which in turn creates stress, affects health, and overall performance. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds back into itself and can spiral uncontrollably into homelessness.

Beyond the economics of the issue, this is also a gender and race-equity issue in that women, people of color, and immigrants are more likely to be working low-paying jobs. The proposed ordinance also allows for workers to take paid sick time to care for a loved one or dependent, so it is not only for when a worker is sick.

That’s why it’s important that the City Council embrace the Paid Sick Leave ordinance put forward by the Maine Women’s Lobby and the Southern Maine Working Center; which will allow roughly 20,000 Portland’s workers to accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked (up to 48 hours per year; or 6 days).

This will allow for some peace of mind for both the worker, employer, and the consumer.

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