In its final scheduled meeting of 2014, Philadelphia City Council focused on a flurry of measures to aid the city's blue-collar workers, including a past failed proposal - mandatory paid sick leave - and a new and controversial one calling for a citywide minimum wage.
Council also approved legislation to support workers at Philadelphia International Airport, where contract staff staged a walkout last month. More than a dozen airport employees in red shirts packed the Council chamber Thursday, joined by another group advocating a minimum wage. Both broke out in cheers as their measures came up.
"The issue of income equality, the issue of the haves and have-nots, the issue of the wealthy 1 percent vs. the other 99 percent, is a growing issue that breeds economic resentment," said Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. before the airport legislation he shepherded was approved, 17-0. "And it's not going away."
Thursday's meeting, the last before election season for the 17 Council members truly begins to rev up, was packed with activity.
Goode's legislation mandates that airport contractors sign "labor peace agreements," which require nonconfrontational resolution - such as arbitration - of disputes with employees. A similar bill for employees of hotels that lease city land or get city help with financing also was approved.
It was not immediately clear if Mayor Nutter would sign Goode's bill. An airport official has testified that the requirement is likely to raise operating costs for airlines, which could lead some to change their lease agreements with the airport. Labor leaders argue that such agreements are common, and will protect workers and travelers from delays caused by work stoppages.
Council also passed a resolution, introduced by Kenyatta Johnson, to hold hearings on a citywide $15 minimum wage. The current federal minimum is $7.25 an hour; Democrats, including President Obama, have argued for raising it to $10.10.
The City Solicitor's Office is studying whether Council has the authority to order a minimum wage, a power long believed to be held in Harrisburg. A local advocacy group, 15 Now Philly, has argued that a state "preemption" on minimum wages would not hold up in court and is pressing Council to challenge it.
Nutter's administration has not taken a stance on the issue.
Paid sick leave
It was one of the more anticipated issues on Thursday's agenda: After he vetoed paid sick-leave bills in 2011 and 2013, Nutter convened a task force that in December said more than 200,000 Philadelphia workers were lacking the benefit - and recommended that it be required for businesses with 15 or more employees.
The bill introduced by Greenlee sets a lower threshold: 10 employees. He said the difference would extend sick-leave benefits to 15,000 employees, raising the total eligible for such leave to about 135,000. He noted that Council previously sought paid sick leave for businesses with five or more employees.
Greenlee's bill calls for employers to grant workers an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a minimum of 40 hours' leave in a year. Workers out longer than two days would have to document their illnesses if their employer requested it.
The bill, referred to a committee, would also affect employers with fewer than 10 workers, which would have to offer earned unpaid leave for illnesses.
Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said Thursday that the mayor's goal "is to have a bill that he can enthusiastically support and sign," but said there is still work to do on this one.
Greenlee said some changes might be needed but he expected the bill to pass. That would put Philadelphia on a list of cities where paid sick leave is already mandatory, including New York City and Washington.
"When we first introduced this, we were trying to be at the forefront. Now we're catching up," Greenlee said. "But I think it's about time we caught up."
Putting strings on City Hall 'apron'
One of the nonlabor issues on the agenda was James Kenney's introduction of a resolution to ban parking on the northern "apron" of City Hall. Use of that area as parking by some city officials, including a few Council members, has periodically drawn criticism - more so in recent months, since Dilworth Plaza reopened as the new Dilworth Park, complete with ice rink and restaurant, on City Hall's west side.
Nutter's office has said parking on the apron is handled on a case by case basis and increased temporarily due to the Dilworth Park work.
Kenney's bill would repeal the 1981 legislation that allowed parking on the apron.
"If you can't walk an extra 20 or 30 feet to the door of City Hall, there is something wrong with you," said Kenney, who also introduced a resolution to study the best use of that space and others around City Hall.
LOOP, land bank, hero honored
In other action Thursday:
Council extended till Feb. 17 the deadline to apply the city's Longtime Owner-Occupants Program (LOOP), which caps the tax increase for homeowners whose property values skyrocketed in the citywide reassessment completed last year.
A deal was approved to let New York-based Titan Outdoor L.L.C. design, install, maintain, and sell advertising on 600 bus shelters - replacing the city's current 318 and adding 282 - and on dozens of newspaper boxes, cultural information kiosks, and benches. The ads are expected to generate about $100 million for the city over a 20-year period.
Marian B. Tasco introduced a resolution, signed by all 17 members, honoring Joyce Craig, the firefighter who died Tuesday while fighting a house fire in West Oak Lane.
Council also approved the 2015 strategic plan for the Philadelphia Land Bank, clearing the way for vacant and tax-delinquent properties to be transferred to one government entity and ideally streamline redevelopment.
The land bank, created by an ordinance passed a year ago, is supposed to manage the city's vast stock of vacant lots, acquire tax-delinquent properties, and sell both to responsible buyers. The bank's board is to recommend which properties should be transferred to the bank for disposition.
Council members will have yes-or-no say on each recommended property in their districts - a prerogative similar to what existed previously, and a major point of contention in getting the initial legislation passed.
"This is not only historic. but it will be a game-changer for Philadelphia," said Maria Quiñones Sánchez, who was the driving force behind the legislation.