Pittsburgh's paid sick leave bill headed to council for vote Monday
July 31, 2015 12:00 AM
The most recent version of the legislation allows workers at businesses that employ 15 or more people to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked to a maximum of 40 hours.
By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, with broad support from his colleagues, is looking to push through legislation Monday that would require businesses to provide paid sick leave to their employees before the council breaks for its August recess.
If it clears that final vote, the bill, put forward July 6, will have gone from introduction to passage in less than a month, a pace that some business owners who attended a public hearing Thursday criticized as too hurried for a law that they argued could have an impact on bottom lines across the city.
Mr. O’Connor also noted Thursday that amendments to the bill will be finalized over the weekend.
“Nobody knows what they’re going to be voting on,” said John Graf, owner of the Priory Hotel and government affairs chair of the Northside/ North Shore Chamber of Commerce, which represents 170 businesses “uniformly opposed” to the law. “It’s banana republic stuff.”
Mr. Graf, who has also held positions with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said many businesses, including his, already offer paid leave to their employees but consider the proposed law an unfair burden on small businesses with a handful of workers.
However, Mr. Graf and other business owners were decidedly in the minority at the packed public hearing, where dozens of workers, representatives from advocacy groups and union members urged the council to pass the strongest possible version of the law.
Tara Pfeifer, a staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, a legal advocacy group, said business has fought minimum-wage and child labor laws through the “evolution of the American economy.”
Ms. Pfeifer and other proponents said the law would reduce turnover and increase productivity and employee loyalty. She cited a study on the effect of the law in San Francisco, the first city in the country to pass paid sick leave legislation, by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which found that six out of seven employers “did not report any negative effect on profitability.”
About 40 percent of Pittsburgh’s private sector workers and 77 percent of the city’s service workers lack access to paid sick days.
The most recent version of Mr. O’Connor’s legislation, which was amended Wednesday, allows workers at businesses that employ 15 or more people to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked to a maximum of 40 hours.
For businesses with fewer than 15 employees, workers can accrue up to 24 hours of paid sick time, though those small businesses will get a year to comply with the law and must only offer unpaid leave during that grace period. Employers that already provide paid leave equal to the requirements in the law will not have to offer additional leave. Tipped workers will be paid sick leave at the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or their regularly hourly compensation, whichever is higher.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he might seek an exemption to the requirement for small businesses. However, another question is whether the city can legally impose the requirement on businesses. Mr. O’Connor has wrapped the proposed law in the argument that it shields public health, though some restaurant owners have pointed out that the county health department already dictates when sick employees are unable to work.
A 2004 council law intended to protect non-supervisory workers who lose their jobs when their employer’s contract is awarded to a new contractor, as with janitors, was struck down two years later after a lawsuit. The decision was upheld by the state Supreme Court, which found that home rule law prohibits the city from determining “duties, responsibilities or requirements” of private businesses.
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