City Councilmember Kendra Brooks is expected to introduce legislation Friday to expand the city’s paid sick leave law for Philadelphians working during the coronavirus crisis.
The proposed legislation, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Helen Gym and Bobby Henon, would expand the law to cover all workers, including ones currently ineligible for its protections, such as gig workers and those working for companies with fewer than 10 employees. The proposal would increase the number of paid sick days from five to 14 — the recommended quarantine time for people who have been exposed — and allow workers to use the days immediately, instead of waiting to accrue them.
The legislation seeks to fill the large gaps left by the federal government’s emergency paid sick leave bill. More than 75% of American workers are employed by companies that qualify for exemptions to the federal legislation. In Pennsylvania, three million workers weren’t covered by the federal bill, according to Brooks’ office. This month, such cities as Los Angeles and Washington passed their own paid sick leave laws to fill gaps in the federal law.
The coronavirus crisis has renewed calls for mandated paid sick leave, as essential workers, most of whom are low-wage earners, continue to report to work even if they feel sick because they can’t afford to stay home. As cities such as Philadelphia went into lock down, the virus spread throughout workplaces deemed essential, such as meat processing plants and city jails.
And even though Philadelphia expanded its paid sick leave law to cover workers affected by the public health crisis, the most a worker covered by the law could accrue was five days. It’s why, in the early days of the pandemic in the city, low-wage workers called for the city to expand its paid sick leave law.
Mayor Jim Kenney said he “supported the concept” but had yet to review the legislation, and wasn’t sure where the money would come from. The city, like other employers, would have to cover the expanded paid sick leave costs for its own workers.
Kenney expressed frustration that the city was filling gaps left by the federal government.
“We cannot do things that should be done by the federal government,” he said.
It’s not yet clear what kind of opposition the bill could face, but similar proposals have faced push back in the past.
It took seven years to pass the first paid sick leave bill, with then-Mayor Michael Nutter vetoing it twice, saying the policy would drive businesses out of Philadelphia in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Kenney has made progressive worker legislation a hallmark of his administration, but the country is once again grappling with what could be a prolonged recession.
“Businesses both big and small are putting the safety of their employees and customers first,” Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “Some are having to furlough or lay off colleagues due to the extraordinary financial hardship. As such, we believe it is imperative that any proposed legislation does not detract from these life-saving efforts and should be fully deliberated to ensure they do not do further harm to our citizens.”
A lack of access to paid sick leave is among the long list of issues facing workers deemed essential during the pandemic, who have been lauded as heroes as they risk their lives on the job. These workers have increasingly turned to protests and strikes to seek safer conditions. Labor unions and groups this week called for city-mandated protections, including testing for essential workers and protection against firing if workers stay home when they feel sick.
“It is time that we showed gratitude to our essential workers with actions, not just words,” Brooks said in a statement.
Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.