Articles

Task force: Paid sick leave good for Phila.

Task force: Paid sick leave good for Phila.

Posted: December 03, 2014

 

 

About 120,000 Philadelphia workers could receive mandatory sick pay if recommendations released Monday to Mayor Nutter become law.

Nutter twice vetoed sick-leave legislation, which is widely challenged as cost-prohibitive by the business community. But he reversed his stance in June when he announced the task force along with City Councilman William Greenlee, who has long advocated the measure.

"The real winners in this would be those workers that right now do not have paid sick leave and can join growing numbers around the country that have what I believe is a very reasonable benefit," Greenlee said Monday. "It's good for both employees and employers."

The task force estimated that a change would cover 120,000 of the 200,000 workers in Philadelphia who are without paid sick leave.

The report found that 35 percent to 40 percent of people working in Philadelphia did not have paid sick leave. Detailed at a 10 a.m. news conference, the report recommends that employers with 15 or more employees be required to provide paid sick leave.

That's a higher employee threshold than the most recent City Council bill, which would have mandated employers with five or more employees to give paid sick leave.

Arriving at the threshold recommendation was the most challenging part of the discussion, said task force cochair Dan Calista, founder of Vynamic and a board member of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Calista said 15 employees was a "compromise, not a consensus," that came out of a lengthy conversation over how to define a small business.

"It was a balance between including as many workers as possible and at the same time finding a standard business language. . . . Is a small business a five-person company, a 10-person company, a 50-person company?" he said.

Greenlee said he hoped to revisit the threshold as he developed a bill. He is aiming to have legislation on Nutter's desk by early next year.

The task force looked at 15 cities - eight in New Jersey - and three states that require paid sick leave, and found no evidence to suggest the policy hurt business or put a city at a competitive disadvantage, said cochair Natalie Levkovich, executive director of the Health Federation of Philadelphia.

"The public-health advantages," Levkovich said, "and advantages to workers and families and potential impact on deep poverty are well documented."

Many in the business community disagree.

David Patti, director of the Philadelphia Business Council, which includes mostly companies already providing sick leave for workers, said it would encroach on the ability of a business to compete for employees.

"We don't think," Patti said, that "the government mandating what a business does about anything is a good idea."

Lori Halber, a partner at the Fisher & Phillips law firm in Radnor, called the proposed legislation a form of "overregulation" and said it would hurt and potentially dissuade small businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, from coming to Philadelphia.

"It's very simple for a business to choose to open on the Montgomery County side of City Line Avenue," she said.

For serious illnesses, Halber said, federal protections like the Family Medical Leave Act exist. Neal Lesher, legislative director of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents 15,000 businesses in Pennsylvania, said small businesses often have had to bring in someone else if a worker has called out sick.

"They shouldn't have to pay for the same job, the same hour, twice," he said.

The task force suggested exemptions for federal and state workers, employees covered under collective-bargaining agreements, temporary workers, seasonal workers, interns, adjunct faculty, and independent contractors.

Each employee would accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Victims of domestic violence could use the sick leave to seek treatment, legal services, or relocation.

The 14-member task force included small-business owners, chief executive officers, and representatives from Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, and the restaurant business.

A Greenlee-sponsored bill to bring paid sick leave to Philadelphia initially passed by 11-6 in April 2013. Nutter vetoed it, and Greenlee did not have the 12 votes to override the mayor's decision.

Nutter vetoed a similar bill in 2011. He said Monday that he had blocked both bills because of the state of the economy at the time. He described Philadelphia's current economic landscape as much better than it was three years ago.

He said Monday that he looked forward to signing something on a third go-round: "Sometime early next year, I would like to sign a reasonable, rational, consensus-based paid sick-leave bill for the city of Philadelphia."