Judge rejects as 'unenforcable' two Pittsburgh labor ordinances
December 22, 2015 4:29 PM
Sam Williamson, center, Western Pennsylvania Area Director of 32BJ SEIU, flanked by city council member Rev Ricky Burgess , left, and Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto, right, talks about the deal between most of the city's security contractors and the 32BJ of Service Employees International Union, during a press conference in the City-County Building in October
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An Allegheny County judge has struck down two landmark Pittsburgh labor ordinances in the past week, a rebuke that Mayor Bill Peduto called “a step back for Pittsburgh.”
On Monday, Common Pleas Judge Joseph James rejected as “invalid and unenforceable” an August ordinance requiring city businesses to grant one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours an employee worked.
The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and five businesses sued, calling the law “an illegal exercise of municipal authority.” Judge James agreed, citing a 2009 state Supreme Court decision overturning another Pittsburgh employment ordinance. That ruling held that state law “prohibits ... municipalities, like Pittsburgh, from regulating businesses by determining their ‘duties, responsibilities, or requirements.’ ”
Melissa Bova, a spokeswoman for the restaurant association, called the ruling “a victory on every front. ... We hope the city will accept the decision and we can move on.”
Judge James again cited the 2009 decision in a Dec. 17 opinion that also came to light Tuesday. That ruling struck down the city’s “Safe and Secure Building Act,” which required security workers in many buildings to receive training in CPR and other safety procedures.
Passed in June, the measure was challenged by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Pittsburgh. Neither the association nor its attorney, Greg Evashavik, returned a call for comment Tuesday.
City Councilman Corey O’Connor, who sponsored the sick-leave bill, said he was “disappointed in the outcome.” But ensuring the health of low-wage employees and their customers, he said, “is a conversation that needs to take place. This was about fighting for workers and their families.” The rulings, he noted, imposed no financial penalties on the city.
“We are disappointed in the court’s rulings,” said Sam Williamson, 32BJ SEIU Western Pa. district leader. The union, an ally of Mr. Peduto, backed both ordinances. Mr. Williamson called opposition to safety training “unfathomable” and said it was “unconscionable” to oppose paid sick days.
Ms. Bova countered that the sick-leave ordinance ran roughshod over smaller businesses. “This isn’t saying we want people to work sick. It’s saying you can’t treat all businesses the same way.”
It’s unclear if the city will appeal either ruling. Mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said the city is “reviewing our legal options.” But Pittsburgh United executive director Barney Oursler, whose group backed the ordinances, said, “We’re looking forward to this coming before the Supreme Court,” in hopes it would rethink its 2009 ruling.
That court will include three new Democratic justices elected this year. But for now, the rulings reflect a broader challenge faced by progressive leaders like Mr. Peduto.
With officials in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., unwilling or unable to mandate sick leave policies or stricter gun-control laws, activists have sought to enact such measures locally. But at least in Pennsylvania, doing so risks a court ruling that local officials lack the proper authority. Adding to the frustration: State law sometimes gives special dispensation to Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, whose own sick-leave law went into effect this year.
In a statement, Mr. Peduto lamented that “these court decisions have set the City of Pittsburgh behind our peers.”
“We’re a growing city,” Mr. O’Connor said. “Harrisburg needs to take notice.”
Chris Potter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.
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