COUNCIL PASSES PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY LEAVE

In Bobby Henon, Council News, Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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The bill will provide two weeks-worth of emergency paid sick leave for thousands of Philadelphia workers who continue to physically report their jobs.

PHILADELPHIA—Today, in the first session back after summer recess, City Councilmembers voted to pass Public Health Emergency Leave, a bill that would extend two-weeks-worth of paid sick leave coverage to thousands of workers in Philadelphia who physically report to their jobs. Though the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act at the federal level created some emergency sick time provisions for workers, an estimated 3 million workers in Pennsylvania were left out due to the laws’ exemptions, according to the Center for American Progress.

The bill, which was introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large) on May 1, 2020, and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Helen Gym (At-Large) and Bobby Henon (6th District), comes as a enormous relief to healthcare workers, employees of businesses with more than 500 workers, nannies, gig economy workers, and contract workers, who have lacked adequate paid sick leave since the pandemic began in March. The bill passed 16-1, with Councilmember Brian O’Neill (10th District) being the lone dissenting vote.

Implementing flexible sick leave policies and supportive practices is one of the primary ways that businesses can maintain operations and protect their workers and the public from the threat of COVID-19, according to the CDC. As Philadelphia businesses continue to reopen, and as fall weather will soon force community members inside, these worker protections arrive at a critical time. Public Health Emergency Leave will enable workers to more easily stay home to self-quarantine due to possible exposure to COVID-19 or when symptoms arise, to care for a sick family member, or to stay home with a child when childcare facilities or schools close due to COVID-19.

In Pennsylvania, women and people of color are over-represented in fields that require workers to physically report to their jobs, and they make significantly less on-average than fields in which employees are able to work remotely. The vulnerabilities of frontline workers have contributed in part to the glaring disparities seen in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia, in which Black individuals are more than twice as likely as white individuals to contract COVID-19, according to data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As families across Philadelphia grapple with the economic impact of COVID-19, Public Health Emergency Leave is critical to combating the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and ensuring that workers who support their families are not losing life-sustaining wages should they fall ill.

“With restaurants, movie theaters, childcare facilities, and other businesses reopening, Public Health Emergency Leave is coming just in time for Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “It is paramount that we have strong worker protections in place if we are to continue reopening our economy safely. For too long, low-wage workers of color have kept our city running during a global pandemic with little more than public displays of gratitude to show for it in return. Today, the City of Philadelphia showed up for the thousands of workers who have kept our communities safe and cared for since mid-March by providing them with the basic protections they deserve. This victory is for them.”

“An unprecedented pandemic such as this was unexpected and exposed issues surrounding workers’ rights that allowed us to delve deeper into finding solutions to some of those problems,” said Councilmember Bobby Henon. “Emergency sick leave is a necessity at a time like this and in general during disasters. I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation introduced by Councilmember Brooks which will support our essential workers and those on the front line of this pandemic and future emergencies”

“This pandemic has shown the urgency of establishing clear protections for all the workers who keep our communities running during a global pandemic,” said Councilmember Helen Gym. “With Public Health Emergency Leave, working Philadelphians will no longer have to choose between caring for their health and earning a basic income. It provides urgently needed benefits to the communities of color that are on the front-lines of this crisis, by protecting the health of workers without depriving them of the ability to support themselves and their families.”

The legislation is the result of months-long collaboration with local unions and worker-led organizations who have been advocating for stronger worker protections since March.

“Essential workers are across the board some of the lowest paid in our economy, despite being put at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Pat Eiding, President of Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO. “I support public health emergency leave because without it, workers will be forced to put themselves and the general public at risk by continuing to come into work even if they are sick. Workers should never have to choose between endangering the public for a paycheck or staying home and losing wages they need to feed their families.”

“This bill is not only good for healthcare employees, but for the elderly as well, who make up over 56% of the total deaths from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania,” said Elyse Ford, Vice President of District 1199C. “We know that nursing home residents are more susceptible to COVID-19, and we must do all we can to protect them. This includes making sure that staff is protected and do not spread COVID-19 by coming to work sick. In an industry with 80 percent workforce turnover and below average wages, it is imperative that we take all actions necessary to protect these workers who protect us and our older family members.”

“CREW represents thousands of workers who don’t have access to the paid sick time they need to weather an ongoing pandemic,” said Devan Spear, founding member, Coalition to Respect Every Worker (CREW). “This crisis is far from over, and in this time of extreme uncertainty, our members need guaranteed emergency paid sick time to keep each other safe and sustain their families.”

The bill also drew strong support from workers deemed ‘essential’—many of whom lack access to paid sick leave and as a result have had to use vacation time or a leave of absence at some point during the pandemic.

“I was sick with COVID-19 in March. I have three children and a wife at home who count on me,” said Ali Razak, an Uber driver since 2014 and member of Philadelphia Drivers’ Union. “If the city had ensured that I was paid for the time I was out sick from this pandemic, I would not have hundreds of dollars of overdraft and late fees. I would not have so much fear for how I will ever recover from this financially, and I could focus only on keeping myself and my family safe and healthy.”

“This bill would enable people in my position to actually act in the best interests of our own health and the health and safety of the hundreds of thousands of people that we interact with at our jobs every single day,” said Mitch Broesder, a grocery store worker employed by a national chain. “It would let us take the time off we need to take care of ourselves and our family members and it would stop us from having to weigh the health risks of coming to work against the economic cost of missing out on the day’s wage.”

“I have pre-existing health conditions. I had to take a leave of absence because I work on an ICU floor,” said Tammi Richburg, a security officer in Philadelphia and member of SEIU 32BJ. “My son battled COVID-19 and I’ve buried five loved ones who died from the virus. My union sisters and brothers are on the frontlines facing the reality that they can get this virus. If they do, they only have vacation and personal days to use. Workers need paid sick days.”

“Those of us on the frontlines of COVID-19 must have paid sick leave,” said Terry Thomas, a Philadelphia Certified Nursing Assistant and member of SEIU Healthcare – PA. “If we are not able to stay home when we’re ill, we can never stem the spread and keep our residents and families safe – more people will die, period. No one should ever have to choose between getting a paycheck or going to work sick.”

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