BROOKS REINSTATES EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE TO SUPPORT WORKERS THROUGH NEXT PHASE OF THE PANDEMIC

In Council News, Kendra Brooks, News by PHL Council

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With vaccine and mask mandates ending in Philadelphia, emergency paid sick leave gives workers the ability to stay safe and healthy through the next phase of the pandemic.

PHILADELPHIA—Today, City Council passed a third installment of a bill that will guarantee up to 40 hours of paid sick leave for Philadelphia workers to recover from COVID-19; care for a sick family member or a child whose school has closed; or take time off to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large), will apply to any employer with twenty-five or more workers and cover all workers who are expected to physically report to their jobs. While daily COVID-19 case counts have decreased after the record-highs that the city saw during the surge in cases due to the Omicron variant, Philadelphia is still seeing significant spread of COVID-19, with other possible variants on the horizon. The bill’s passage demonstrates a citywide commitment to protecting Philadelphia workers even as other protections, such as vaccine and mask mandates, are phased out.

“I’m proud to deliver emergency paid sick leave to Philadelphia workers once again, so that they will not be left out in the cold as we learn to live with the pandemic,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large). “Previous versions of this bill demonstrated that paid sick leave is good for workplace safety, worker retention, and keeping businesses open—safely. With many other protections being phased out, we must ensure that we are not sacrificing our workforce for the sake of convenience or profit. I am grateful to my colleagues for standing up for the people who have carried the city on their backs through all phases of the pandemic. This is a victory for low-wage workers across the city who can now go into work with the peace of mind that they will never have to choose between staying home sick with COVID-19 and being unable to make rent or coming into work sick and putting the public in danger.”

The bill was passed following a lively debate, with councilmembers weighing concerns expressed by the diverse chambers of commerce and corporate lobbyists with the needs of thousands of low-wage workers and union members. It was passed by a margin of 12-4, with Councilmembers Allan Domb (At-Large), Derek Green (At-Large), David Oh (At-Large), and Brian O’Neil (10th District) voting against the bill. Two previous versions of the bill were successfully passed in September 2020 and March 2021 respectively, but expired due to sunset provisions. This version of emergency paid sick leave will expire on December 31, 2023, guaranteeing workers access to leave through the next phase of the pandemic and protecting Philadelphians should new variants emerge.

Also prior to the City Council vote, a number of workers and labor leaders expressed their firm support for paid sick leave, pointing to the dangerous situations many workers forced into during the 2021 holiday season.

“I am a mother of three beautiful children and have been a restaurant worker for fourteen years. I have had to work several times when I was sick,” said Erendira Zamacona Solano, member of El Comité de Trabajadorxs and organizer with 215 People’s Alliance. “I never had paid sick days, but I have been wrongfully fired. Once, when my child was sick, I was told if I didn’t show up I did not have a job anymore. We do not have benefits or medical insurance. We get paid minimum wage. We need two jobs because the bills don’t stop. With the passage of this bill, we feel protected and valued as human beings.”

“I am a restaurant worker in the city of Philadelphia, where one of my coworkers contracted COVID-19 during the beginning of the Omicron surge,” said Bennett Warker. “She contacted our fellow workers and management, and told them she had tested positive. Still, ownership told everyone, including her, that they needed to come in. Without comprehensive sick leave, we had to come in for fear of losing our jobs. Predictably, everyone contracted COVID-19. For years, we’ve been talking about how frontline workers are essential. Now, we need to award workers one of the most rudimentary protections.”

“We’ve lost over a hundred of our union members to COVID-19, and thousands of others have contracted it on the job,” said Daisy Cruz, Mid-Atlantic District Director SEIU 32BJ. “Each time they fall ill they miss out on almost a week’s pay—and some of them have contracted it twice. While many of us have the comfort of working from home, our workers are cleaning and securing our schools, hospitals, and airports, where social distancing is almost impossible. Frontline workers have kept our city running even during the most difficult periods of the pandemic and deserve paid sick leave. It’s time we put people before profit.”

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 nears the two-year anniversary of its first recorded cases of COVID-19, the city is beginning to find safe ways to maintain business operations, bolster the economy, and protect the public health. The bill also has strong support from small business owners and community members, who argue that providing adequate paid sick leave for workers is not only sound public health policy, it’s also a proven tactic in employee retention and public trust.

“In general, this sick leave is incredibly important for service sector employees,” said Melissa Walter, co-founder of Love City Brewing. “No one wants someone who is ill handling their food and beverages, and coworkers don’t want to risk getting ill themselves. But the simple truth is that workers who can’t afford to stay home, won’t. If the decision is between coming to work with an illness and missing out on a portion of your income, many workers will choose to work, especially if that income is the difference between being able to pay your rent that month or falling behind. I believe this bill will be good public health policy, but I also think it’s a good business decision. Any policy that helps employee retention is good for the bottom line.”

“This pandemic has dealt a crushing blow to every human being in this city and beyond,” said Jacqueline Wiggins, a local advocate and senior community member. “Those who contract COVID-19 are people who have families, and elderly relatives—having a worker test positively impacts everyone. I need assurances from business owners that my health will not be compromised just by visiting a business where COVID-19 is spreading among workers and the public. The people who make business work are people like myself who purchase the goods and services for what they want and need. We need the assurance that workers have adequate paid sick leave.”

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