Md. paid sick leave proponents call poll ‘fear-mongering’

ANNAPOLIS —  A poll released Tuesday showing conditional support for the effort to mandate paid sick days in Maryland is being decried as a scare tactic by supporters of the proposed law.

The poll by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies found strong support for the issue but also appears to show that the support for mandatory sick leave benefits is conditional and drops precipitously when coupled with questions about potential negative effects on businesses and employees. Supporters say the claims of negative effects are nothing more than scare tactics.

“It’s another example of corporate special interests using fear-mongering to play politics with working families,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of Baltimore-based Job Opportunities Task Force, a prime backer of the effort through a 144-member coalition known as Working Matters. “When you go and really dig deep we don’t see any of the negative outcomes that they cite in this poll.”

Supporters such as Broome see the push to mandate paid sick leave as one of the premier issues of the 2016 General Assembly session.

“The hypothetical effects that (the poll) raises are not backed up with facts,” Broome said. “When you raise these negatives of course people are going to be fearful.”

Broome said the poll is “a very poor guide to public policy.”

Under the bill last year, businesses with 10 or more employees would be required to offer paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 worked. The leave would begin accruing immediately when an employee is hired, and the worker would be eligible to take the leave after 90 days of employment.

The bill died after chairmen in the House and Senate sent supporters and opponents a letter asking them to find a compromise solution.

Some business groups such as the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Dealers Association, the Maryland Retailers Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses have since mobilized and are using the poll they commissioned as a potential road map to drive opposition to the bill.

Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, rejected claims that the survey amounted to a push poll designed to produce a desired result.

“We constantly see push polling, and we wanted to stay away from that,” Locklair Tolle said, adding that the questions were based on real situations.

“They do happen,” Locklair Tolle said. “This is what retailers tell us has happened in other states where these laws have been enacted. This is what businesses tell us is happening.”

The poll continues to show that the issue receives strong support — 73 percent — when those surveyed were merely asked if they were in favor of such a mandate. The strongest support comes from Democrats, people 50 and older, women, and black voters.

The poll of 819 registered Maryland residents who vote regularly was conducted earlier this month at the same time Gonzales conducted polls on the approval ratings for Gov. Larry Hogan, the Democratic Primary for mayor in Baltimore and approval ratings for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

The concerns appear to track with a 2013 survey of businesses in Connecticut affected by a similar proposal. That survey was conducted by the Employment Policies Institute, a conservative think tank. That survey found that businesses reported the law resulted in employers reducing benefits, working hours, numbers of jobs, scaling back available overtime and increasing costs of goods and services.

In every case support for mandatory paid sick leave dropped below 50 percent in Maryland in the Gonzales poll when negative business effects were added to the question.

The biggest drop in support came when those surveyed were asked if they supported paid sick leave if it meant a reduction of retirement or health care benefits — 77 percent said they would oppose the mandate, compared to 12 percent who said they would continue to support it. Support among Democratic voters dropped to about 14 percent and nearly 13 percent among black voters.

Broome said the concerns raised in the poll aren’t real.

“All of these dire predictions haven’t come to pass in other places where these laws have passed,” Broome said. “For us, it’s the reason why we have more businesses coming to the table to support this effort.”