Countdown is on: Pittsburgh paid sick leave law takes effect in 90 days
October 13, 2015 12:00 AM
Dressed at "Sam the Snot," Samey Jay helps pass out leaflets reminding people in Market Square that it's 90 days until paid sick leave becomes effective in the City of Pittsburgh on Jan. 11, 2016.
By Robert Zullo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As of Monday, Pittsburgh businesses have 90 days until a law takes effect that will require virtually all employers in the city to eventually offer paid sick leave to workers.
City Controller Michael Lamb posted the notice setting an effective date of Jan. 11 for the ordinance, which exempts federal and state employees, independent contractors, construction workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and seasonal workers. The notice was heralded as “another historic day” for Pittsburgh by City Councilman Corey O’Connor, who pushed the legislation from introduction to final passage in about a month despite opposition from some business owners and concerns that the city was exceeding its authority under state law.
“It’s the right thing to do for 50,000 workers in the city of Pittsburgh,” Mr. O’Connor said at a brief news conference Monday in Market Square. “It puts Pittsburgh on the map that we are a great city to come live and also work.”
The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association joined Storms Restaurant and Catering, The Church Brew Works, Rita’s Italian Ice, Dirt Doctors Cleaning Service and Modern Cafe Inc. in a lawsuit filed last month that called the law “an illegal exercise of municipal authority” and they plan to seek an injunction today to stop its implementation.
“Implementation is going to cost businesses money. And we certainly feel businesses shouldn’t have to spend money for a law that we think isn’t legal in the first place,” said Melissa Bova, the association’s director of government affairs. “We would hope the city would understand and appreciate that.”
Briefs in the lawsuit are due at the end of November, Ms. Bova said.
Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United, a coalition of unions, community organizations and advocacy groups that pushed council to pass the measure, said groups like the Women’s Law Project would offer free legal assistance to the city, adding that it was “unfair” of some restaurants to fight the law.
“We’re going to be visiting them and sharing with their customers that they are trying to keep a bill [from being enacted] that would protect the customers from getting sick from waiters and cooks,” he said, “hoping they see the wisdom of backing off. ... If they don’t, we will escalate.”
Council members were warned by the city Law Department in advance that the sick-leave bill, framed by proponents as a public-health measure, would be vulnerable to a successful legal challenge, since state law prevents Pittsburgh from determining “duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses.” In 2006, a judge struck down a council law intended to protect employees of service companies, such as janitors, who lose their jobs when their companies lose contracts, based on the same limitations of the home rule charter law.
In an interview, Mayor Bill Peduto wouldn’t delve into a legal defense of the law, which 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. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees get a one-year grace period, after which workers accrue up to 24 hours of paid sick time. For the first year, employees of those businesses will accrue only unpaid sick time. Businesses that already offer commensurate paid time off are exempt.
“Obviously we feel there is a warranted position the city should be taking on this and that is legally defensible,” he said. “The United States remains the only democracy in the world that doesn’t offer its workers paid sick leave. … For people to oppose it really is turning the clock back and eventually this county will offer all of its workers paid sick leave. Pittsburgh’s on the right side of history and we’ll continue to move forward.”
Mr. Lamb said his staff would prepare policies and procedures for filing complaints for violations of the ordinance, among other steps on the path toward enacting it, until they hear otherwise.
“This happens often that we start down a road and the courts decide we can’t go that way,” he said. “I’m not all that concerned about it. It may fall, it may stand, but either way we’re going to be ready to go.”
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909.
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