Portland’s small businesses are the backbone of this community, yet Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling has been waging a war of division that will hurt these businesses and their employees.

From restaurants to retail shops to tradespeople, our city’s unique and growing local businesses have made Portland a destination city that keeps getting better. Our businesses are integral to all facets of our community. Members sit on school boards, volunteer, engage in city government and are always on the front lines helping our neighbors in need. And, above all else, Portland’s small businesses provide economic advancement and employment opportunities. That’s why recent efforts by Mayor Strimling to draw division between the business community and the rest of our city is so disconcerting.

Several weeks ago, the mayor proposed a far-reaching mandate on all Portland businesses that would put them at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Without any evidence of a problem unique to Portland, Mayor Strimling is attempting to force Portland’s small businesses – uniquely in the state of Maine – to provide paid time off to all workers. The proposal would apply to both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses and would require such businesses to provide paid time off to workers the moment they are hired – in many cases, without the need for a doctor’s note. The proposal covers not only full-time workers, but also part-time and seasonal employees.

This proposal represents a substantial increase in labor cost to our small businesses, and it will create a web of unintended consequences that will ultimately hurt both employers and employees. From the cost of revamped payroll systems to the difficulty of managing scheduling when workers ask for time off with little notice or without a doctor’s note, this proposal would force many businesses – including businesses within our burgeoning restaurant and hospitality industry – to raise their prices or reduce their staff, according to a 2016 Employment Policies Institute study of the impact of Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation paid sick leave mandate. Some companies may even have to close altogether.

The mayor’s divisive approach was on full display at the first hearing on his proposal. He and his allies held a rally on the sick leave policy in front of City Hall where speakers used intimidation tactics to suppress public input by threatening boycotts against any business owner who spoke out against the mayor’s harmful mandate.

All of this occurred before the first public hearing on this issue – before anyone had the chance to ask questions, share concerns or propose alternatives.

This is not the type of leadership Portland needs from our mayor, and it’s not the way to make good policy.

Unfortunately, the sick leave policy was not the only recent example of divisive politics by the mayor. More recently, Mayor Strimling created division by proposing more than $1 million in fees targeted at Portland businesses, further dividing the community. After the City Council’s Finance Committee spent weeks deliberating the proposed city budget, the mayor – on his own – brought forward a number of amendments that would increase fees on Portland businesses, including increases in fees on rental units, increases in property taxes for businesses and increases in permitting and licensing fees.

Through his actions, Mayor Strimling has shown little respect for the critical role our businesses play in the growth and prosperity of our city. His proposals would leave Portland less prosperous and more divided.

The mayor himself made a great point recently, when he declared, “Our diversity is our strength, and our people stand strongly together as one community. It’s why we’re the envy of so many and a destination city for more and more families. We’re both the economic driver of our state and a beacon of hope for all Mainers – new and old.”

We agree wholeheartedly. But we’re afraid the mayor’s divisive approach fails to fulfill the spirit of his statement.

Portland is an amazing place to live and to work. And our future is bright. But we can’t prosper if our businesses are burdened to the point of collapse or relocation. And we can’t stand strong together as one community when the mayor himself is provoking division.

Portland deserves strong, unifying leadership. We urge Mayor Strimling to step into the arena of productive discourse and help us move this city forward – united, not divided.

 





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