News Law and Policy

Pennsylvania Senators Move to Block Paid Sick Leave for Philadelphia Workers

Nina Liss-Schultz

Two Pennsylvania state senators on Wednesday said they would introduce legislation prohibiting municipalities from enacting paid leave protections for workers, a direct response to a long-standing effort in Philadelphia to give employees paid sick leave.

Two Pennsylvania state senators—a Republican and a Democrat—on Wednesday said they would introduce legislation prohibiting municipalities from enacting paid leave protections for workers, a direct response to a long-standing effort in Philadelphia to give employees paid sick leave.

Paid leave legislation has been in the works in Philadelphia for several years. The Philadelphia City Council has twice passed paid sick leave bills—in 2011 and 2013—but both times the legislation was vetoed by Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, who cited concerns about economic growth for small businesses following the Great Recession.

Then, in May 2014, Nutter convened a task force to examine the benefits of paid sick leave and recommended changes for the city, signaling he was ready to re-consider the issue. At least two state senators, however, remain intent on ensuring Philadelphia workers don’t get sick leave benefits.

“In Philadelphia, we believe that approximately 200,000 employees or 35 percent of the workforce lack access to paid sick time based on the most recent Census and Bureau of Labor statistics data,” the task force wrote in its December report. “Of those without paid sick leave, rates are highest among low-wage, part-time, and service industry workers.”

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The task force recommended that employers with at least 15 employees provide paid sick leave, accruing at one hour per 40 hours worked. The report also notes that domestic violence survivors should have the ability to use the paid leave for “safe days” to seek treatment, legal services, or relocation.

Republicans in the state legislature have tried since last year to block local governments from protecting workers. In October, conservative legislators added a similar anti-paid leave preemption amendment to a bill designed to protect domestic violence survivors from eviction after calling 9-1-1 multiple times for help.

Republican legislators also tacked on an anti-gun control amendment to the bill, though both amendments were eventually removed before the bill was passed.

Domestic violence victim advocates at the time noted the irony in adding an anti-sick leave amendment to a victim protection bill.

“Leave from employment is often critical to a domestic violence victim’s survival in both the short and long term,” the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence wrote in a statement responding to the amendment. “When victims of domestic violence have access to resources that help them build financial stability—including policies like paid sick and safe days—they and their families are much more likely to remain safe and secure.”

In a memorandum announcing their intent to introduce the preemption bill, state Sens. John Eichelberger, a Republican, and Lisa Boscola, a Democrat who was once courted by the GOP, explicitly mentioned the problematic nuisance ordinances, but used the laws as evidence against the city’s sick leave agenda.

“Over the years, well intentioned local governments across the nation have tried to pass legislation on all sorts of issues,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, this can cause problems with regard to issues where uniformity is important and policy should be set at the state level—where the primary power to preserve the general welfare resides. Last session, we had the example of nuisance ordinances interfering with overall public policy on domestic violence.”

But as states and the federal government fail to address problems faced by low-wage workers, issues like higher wages and paid leave are increasingly left up to cities.

During the November midterm elections, Oakland, California, along with two cities in New Jersey passed initiatives increasing paid sick days. Portland, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, D.C., are among the other cities to have implemented their own laws giving workers paid leave.

Massachusetts, California, and Connecticut are the only states to guarantee paid sick leave.

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