In this undated photo, at-large Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks speaks during a news conference at Philadelphia City Hall (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Brian Saunders
PHILADELPHIA — City Council has given its approval to legislation sponsored by at-large Councilmember Kendra Brooks requiring employers with 25 or more employees to provide 40 hours of COVID-19 sick leave.
Brooks’ legislation, which passed 12-4 during Thursday’s council session, received some criticism from her City Council colleagues and members of the Diverse Chambers of Commerce, amongst other organizations.
Initially, the bill was introduced with a 10-employee threshold, but a compromise of 25 was settled upon after concerns and questions.
“We are trying to create jobs in Philadelphia, and our small businesses are key to this,” Regina Hairston, president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ, DE, said. “Especially during this recovery period, it is simply essential that Council have a full understanding of the effect this bill will have on all small businesses and their day-to-day operations before moving forward, as we cannot afford to lose any more employees.”
At-large Councilmember Derek Green, who opposed the bill, said his concern was related to the threshold of 25 employees.
“My concern is when the African American Chamber, Hispanic Chamber, and Asian Chamber step up and say their members are saying this is impacting them,” Green said. “And I know that they are business owners, but also they have relationships with their employees, they’re concerned not only about the future, their business, they’re also concerned about their employees and having a business to employ them.”
According to Brooks, “our own Commerce Department data which was pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 county business patterns report approximately 85% of Philadelphia’s businesses have fewer than 25 employees and are exempt from COVID-19 legislation.”
Brooks said that the average business in Philadelphia is 22 employees, which would exclude it from the legislation. However, if the threshold were increased to companies with 50 employees, it would only cover 6% of the city’s employees.
Brooks also added that because Black-owned businesses employ an average of 10 people in Philadelphia, Asian-owned companies employ five employees and Hispanic-owned businesses employ roughly seven people, the legislation would not hurt those businesses.
“Based on that data, the average Black- and brown-owned businesses will be excluded under the original bill,” Brooks said. “I’m confident this bill, as amended, will not adversely impact Philadelphia businesses. We cannot make policy decisions based on one group of stakeholders. I also talked to dozens of workers’ union members, advocates who were adversely affected by previous iterations of this bill during the dire periods of the pandemic. I feel like we can’t leave workers out in the cold again.”
William Carter, who is the vice president of Local Government Affairs with Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, said that the legislation does not seem to cover Philadelphia’s current economic condition.
At-large Councilmember Allan Domb also voted against the legislation and said while he supports the spirit of it, he found problems with it.
“I’m in favor of providing legal options for employees managing COVID for a while longer,” Domb said. “But it’s the technical aspects of this bill that Make it extremely difficult for small, medium-sized businesses, nonprofits who have already barely survived this pandemic to recover.”
According to Domb, businesses are already stretched thin with many taking out loans to stay open. In addition, federal funding is no longer available such as the Paycheck Protection Program or federal tax credits.
“In speaking with our local small businesses and nonprofits who employ so many of our local residents and speaking with a diverse chambers coalitions made up of all our minority Chambers of Commerce, they all have concerns and oppose this bill,” Domb said. “This legislation will be another reason why employers will choose to either leave the city or locate elsewhere.”
Councilmember Curtis Jones, D-4th District, said that although he was voting for the bill, he needs Council members to fight just as hard for small businesses as they do for workers in upcoming legislation and opportunities.
Jones asked, “if you give the worker all these opportunities, but the business closes its doors. What’s the point?”
Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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