Jason McCarthey has worked in Philadelphia restaurants for 20 years. He tells of having waited tables despite colds, fevers, even a broken foot.
"We don't get paid if we call in sick, so we go to work, no matter how terrible we feel," McCarthey said of restaurant workers at a City Council hearing Tuesday.
Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services voted unanimously to advance a mandatory paid sick-leave bill after hearing from advocates such as McCarthey, and members of the business and hospitality industry seeking amendments.
The bill is scheduled to be heard Thursday by the full Council and will likely come up for a final vote Feb. 12.
This is the third time Councilman William K. Greenlee has introduced such a bill. When he started the push in 2008, Philadelphia was one of the first cities to consider such a measure. Now, 16 cities and three states have similar laws, and President Obama is calling on Congress to pass federal legislation requiring paid sick time.
Though Greenlee's bill was twice vetoed by Mayor Nutter, in 2011 and 2013, the proposal has the mayor's support this time. Nutter, who created a task force to study the issue and draft recommendations, has said he will sign the latest version if it gets to his desk.
"Third time's a charm," Greenlee told reporters before Tuesday's hearing. "I think, as we've seen around the country, paid sick leave has worked very well, has not had the problems people have predicted. . . . It's fair to everybody, and it's long past due in Philadelphia."
Greenlee says the bill would help many of the 200,000 Philadelphians, or about 40 percent of the city's workforce, who do not get paid sick leave, according to federal labor statistics.
Under his proposal, businesses would be required to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours an employee works - about five days a year.
The latest version of his bill would apply to any business with 10 or more employees.
The Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday asked to have the employee threshold raised to 15. Initially the chamber wanted 50.
"We all support a healthy workplace environment," said Joe Grace, the chamber's director of public policy. "The issue is one of competitiveness - when the City of Philadelphia imposes mandates that other neighboring municipalities do not impose, it puts us at a disadvantage."
Greenlee has refused to consider a lower threshold, given how many people it affects. According to the task force's study, nearly 13 percent of Philadelphia employers have between 10 and 19 employees. Earlier bills set the threshold at five.
Pushback also came Tuesday from hotel and restaurant industry representatives, who asked for amendments requiring employees to take sick leave in blocks of least four hours.
Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, said workers who take off only one or two hours at a time create problems in trying to find people to fill in for such a short stretch.
The bill would have a big effect on the hospitality industry - about 78 percent of food service and accommodation workers in Philadelphia don't get paid sick leave, according to Greenlee's proposal.
About 50 supporters of the bill attended the hearing, some holding signs that read, "Do You Want My Cold?", and, "City Council Members, You Get Sick Days." Some booed opposition testimony during the hearing.
Fatima Hasan, who owns a child-care center in the Overbrook Farms section, testified that she often has parents bring in sick children because they cannot afford to miss work to stay home with them.
Virginia Simmons, 63, a Southwest Philadelphia resident who is disabled and uses a motorized chair, testified that she wanted the bill passed so that the nursing aides who help her every day can stay healthy.
"I'm surprised there aren't more people in wheelchairs here, because we're affected by this," she said. "They are our legs, our eyes, our hearing."
Marianne Bellesorte, vice president of policy and communications for PathWays PA, which helps disadvantaged young mothers find housing, worked closely with Greenlee on the bill.
She also has a personal connection. While fighting stage-four breast cancer, she said, she was scared every time she went out about whom she would come in contact with - given her diminished immune system. "I had to worry about the clerk at the drugstore, the servers at the restaurants. . . . Not one of them would have wanted to get me sick," she said.
Under the bill, employees could use accrued paid sick time to deal with their own illnesses or those of family members, or to seek counseling or legal or other support in dealing with domestic violence or sexual assault.
Employees who would not be covered include independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, employees hired for fewer than six months, interns, government employees, and workers covered by collective-bargaining agreements.
Businesses that already provide sick leave on par with or exceeding the bill's requirements would not have to change their policies. Employers that violate the ordinance would be subject to fines, penalties, and restitution.
If the bill becomes law, it could run afoul of the Republican-controlled Assembly.
Two state senators, John Eichelberger (R., Blair) and Lisa Boscola (R., Lehigh), have responded to Council's consideration of paid sick leave with a promise to introduce legislation in Harrisburg prohibiting local ordinances.
According to the senators, 12 states have passed similar preemptive mandates.
Asked whether he would veto such a preemptive bill, Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, was noncommittal. His spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, issued a statement saying, "Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania workers do not have paid sick time - it affects productivity and it negatively impacts economic growth."