John Olszewski, Jr: A Step Toward Unrigging Our Economy

There is one feeling that unites most Americans in a moment when we have never been as divided as we are now: a very profound sense that our economy is rigged against ordinary people.

I hear that sentiment across Baltimore County, from the retired steelworker who lost his pension to the young college graduate who is living in his parents’ basement, to the entrepreneur who can’t get financing for her business. These are people who work hard and play by the rules as they understand them, and can’t understand why it is getting harder just to break even while the system is helping others get ahead.

Government can – and should – help level the playing field for working families. Our General Assembly took an important step in this direction this year when it passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which requires private employers with more than 15 workers to provide up to five days of paid leave each year to their employees. Baltimore County leaders like Senator Delores Kelley, Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, and Senator Ed Kasemeyer stood with working families – only to see Governor Larry Hogan veto the bill after the legislature adjourned for the year.

I proudly supported paid sick leave when I represented my neighbors on the east side of Baltimore County in the General Assembly, and I continue to support it today. In fact, I not only supported the legislation, I was its champion – the original lead House sponsor of the law.

It’s a no brainer to me. Government does less to protect workers now than it has at any point in my lifetime, while workers have to do more to care for their loved ones and make ends meet. It’s a no brainer to most Marylanders, too – according to a recent poll, three out of every four people in this state support paid sick leave.

I think about my friends who are struggling to both care for their parents while raising children. We should never ask our residents to make an impossible choice – between caring for the ones we love the most and our job.

Paid sick leave policies do not only benefit people who are balancing work and caring for two generations of loved ones. They also benefit anyone who walks into a restaurant. The last thing anyone should have to think about over dinner is whether they may catch a cold or the flu because their server or the cook couldn’t afford to take a day off.

Fundamentally, though, the debate over paid sick leave is a debate over who we are – and who we want to be – as a society.

Are we going to ignore our friends and neighbors who are telling us they’re being left behind in this economy? Or are we going to take common sense steps to level the playing field for people who are working hard and playing by the rules, but still falling further behind?

We can’t just ignore those who are crying out about a rigged economy. They are not asking for a hand out, just a hand up. For these Marylanders, paid sick leave is a modest step towards unrigging our economy – and it’s a step we can’t afford not to take. Working class Marylanders are counting on the General Assembly to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto when the legislature reconvenes in January, and I know my former colleagues won’t let our state down.

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