Less than a month after becoming the 20th municipal ordinance in the country to guarantee paid sick leave to workers, Philadelphia’s “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces” measure is coming under attack by a bill moving through the Republican-controlled state legislature this session.
The Philadelphia City Council on February 12 approved a paid sick leave measure, the third time the council had passed such an ordinance. Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed the first two measures, in 2011 and 2013, saying he couldn’t support mandatory paid sick leave during the recession.
This year, Nutter signed the ordinance only hours after it was passed in a 14-2 vote by city lawmakers.
That same day, state lawmakers introduced SB 333, a bill that would nullify the Philadelphia ordinance by prohibiting municipalities from enacting their own paid sick leave requirements.
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The “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces” ordinance, which is slated to take effect in May, would require all employers with ten or more full-time workers to offer those employees 40 hours paid sick leave per year. The ordinance explicitly allows sick leave to be taken as “safe days” by domestic violence survivors to seek treatment, legal services, or relocation.
Following its introduction in February, an amendment was added to SB 333 that would render void any “mandate enacted by a municipality that is inconsistent with this section.”
The attempt to block city-level paid sick leave requirements doesn’t come as a surprise in Pennsylvania. State Sens. John Eichelberger (R) and Lisa Boscola (D) announced this year their intention to block paid sick leave, writing in a memorandum that city leave policies create an “uneven playing field” for businesses.
“Not all businesses are the same and a blanket policy that does not recognize these differences only hurts small businesses struggling in this current economy,” they wrote.
Both Eichelberger and Boscola are sponsors of SB 333.
Conservative state legislators in October 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. The amendment was eventually removed before the bill was passed.
“Leave from employment is often critical to a domestic violence victim’s survival in both the short and long term,” wrote the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence in response 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 December, a sick leave task force convened by Mayor Nutter concluded that “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.”
“Of those without paid sick leave, rates are highest among low-wage, part-time, and service industry workers.”
No federal legislation exists requiring employers offer paid sick leave to workers, and only three states—Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts—mandate paid sick leave.
The momentum for paid sick leave legislation has been strong. President Obama made a call for local action in his 2015 State of the Union address, and members of Congress this year reintroduced the Healthy Families Act, which would give many employees across the United States seven paid sick days per year.