The bill would reinstate a requirement that gives thousands of Philadelphia workers up to 40 hours of paid leave to recover from COVID-19, care for a sick loved one, or get vaccinated.
PHILADELPHIA—Today, City Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee advanced the third installment of Public Health Emergency Leave out of committee with a favorable recommendation. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Kendra Brooks, would apply to any employer with ten or more workers and cover anyone who is required to physically report to their jobs. Two previous versions of the bill were successfully passed in September 2020 and March 2021 respectively, with each granting thousands of workers access to paid leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for a sick family member. However, both laws expired due to sunset provisions. With COVID-19 case counts in Philadelphia recently reaching record highs and no emergency paid sick leave in place, the new push for emergency protections comes at a critical time for low-wage workers, many of whom cannot afford to stay home and miss a day’s pay.
The bill is co-sponsored by Councilmembers Cherelle Parker (9th District), Mark Squilla (1st District), Cindy Bass (8th District), Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), Helen Gym (At-Large) and Isaiah Thomas (At-Large).
“Paid sick leave is an invaluable tool in simultaneously protecting the health and safety of low-wage workers and the wellbeing and trust of the public,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large). “We passed this law twice before and kept thousands of people from making the impossible choice between reporting to work sick or staying home and not being able to make rent. The most recent surge in COVID-19 case counts reminded us that we have a responsibility to show up for the workers that have carried this city on its back for nearly two years now. We can and must reinstate Public Health Emergency Leave now.”
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. Unlike previous versions of the law, this iteration of Public Health Emergency Leave would expand the number of businesses covered under the law, including most restaurants and food service businesses. At the hearing, multiple small business owners testified in support of the legislation, arguing that providing adequate paid sick leave for workers is not only sound public health policy, it’s also a proven tactic in employee retention. Employers who provide similar or greater paid sick leave to their workers will be exempt from the requirement under the bill.
“Taking care of my employees puts me in a better position, because my employees want to come to work,” said Jennifer Zavala, owner and head chef of Juana Tamale. “Saying this is bad for business means you’re saying you’re not willing to change your business strategy to accommodate your workers. This bill is important for workers in the food service industry, but also important for us as employers to allow people who are sick to have paid time off. People need to be treated with humanity, and need to be able to pay their bills. We must do the right thing and pass Public Health Emergency Leave.”
“In general, 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 is 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.”
At the hearing, workers recounted that during the most recent spike in cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, many workers were forced to come into work sick or risk losing their jobs. This led to rapid spread of COVID-19 and in some cases, business closures. Worker-led organizations and unions voiced strong support for reinstating strong paid sick leave requirements as a way to protect workers, their families, and community members alike.
“Immigrant workers want a healthier and safer restaurant industry for all,” said Reyna Guzman Casarez, member of El Comité de Trabajadorxs, a coalition of immigrant workers in Philadelphia. “We are a wonderful and multicultural city with thousands of diverse restaurants, but when we are forced to work when we are sick the entire industry and city suffers. If we want to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep Philadelphians healthy and thriving we need paid sick leave.”
“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.”
As with bills past, this bill includes a sunset provision that would cause the requirements to expire on December 31, 2023. Now that the bill has advanced out of committee with a favorable recommendation, it will return to City Council for a final vote.