Philly City Council passes paid sick leave bill, impacting hundreds of workers

(Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Ayana Jones

PHILADELPHIA — City Council has given its approval to 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.

The Public Health Emergency Leave impacts 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 was introduced by Council member Kendra Brooks and co-sponsored by Council members Helen Gym and Bobby Henon. The legislation passed 16-1, with Council member Brian O’Neil being the lone dissenting vote.

“This bill underwent multiple rounds of amendments to address the concerns of the business community,” Brooks said during council’s session on Thursday. “One of these amendments clarifies that businesses already providing comparable paid time off do not have to provide any additional two weeks worth of leave. The workers that this bill covers have gone seven months without adequate paid sick leave,” she continued.

“These workers are more likely to be women of color and more likely to be women. As movie theaters, child care facilities and other public venues reopen, protecting these workers is critical to ensuring a safe reopening and limiting the spread of COVID-19 in Philadelphia.”

The 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.

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.

“This bill is not only good for healthcare employees, but for the elderly as well, who make up over 56 percent 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.”

In other action, council member Helen Gym has introduced legislation to extend the city’s eviction moratorium through Dec. 31.

The bill was co-sponsored by council members Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Curtis Jones and Kenyatta Johnson and Isaiah Thomas. The council’s action mirrors the nationwide ban on evictions until Dec. 31 issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control.

“Clearly landlords need to continue to act in good faith but I want folks to know that in other counties, courts have established more aggressive proceeds to notify and protect tenants than they have in Philadelphia,” Gym said. “This is why seven of us have introduced a bill today to extend the eviction moratorium to match the CDC and provide additional protections that are not currently occurring. This bill has also been endorsed by the governor who is also calling upon the state legislature to take similar action.”

“No one entity can handle our eviction crisis by itself. I know though that we all agree that City Council, the city of Philadelphia and the courts should be working in partnership to enforce and uphold the laws on the books.”

Gym said while Philadelphia law mandates that no eviction should be filed or may proceed unless mandatory payment plans or diversions are offered, since July the courts have accepted as many as 400 to 500 evictions filed by landlords.

Both the city and state moratorium expired Aug. 31, and thousands of Philadelphia households are at risk for eviction, according to Municipal Court records. In Philadelphia, 70 percent of evictions target Black residents, 74 percent involve women, half involve a parent or caregiver, and over 90 percent of evictions involve nonpayment of rent, according to the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project.

Councilmember Gauthier introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Jim Kenney to declare gun violence as a citywide emergency. The resolution comes as more than 300 people have been murdered in Philadelphia so far in 2020.

“The COVID-19 crisis showed us the level of coordination and rapid response that Philadelphia is capable of in an emergency and now we need to put that same energy toward ending this outbreak of violence which is endangering Black and brown communities across our city,” Gauthier said. “This isn’t just a symbolic gesture. We have laid out actionable steps that the city can and should take.”

The steps include the city implementing violence reduction efforts with greater speed and effectiveness and having the provide weekly updates to inform the public about efforts in combating the epidemic.

“There are a variety of evidence based programs that have been proven effective in reducing gun violence around the country. We should make it a priority to implement them here in Philadelphia,” Gauthier said.

Council member Cherelle Parker introduced two bills on diversity, equity and inclusion. The first bill clarifies that it is a hate crime — complete with penalties for criminal conduct — to misuse the 911 emergency response system if one is motivated by a hatred of other persons based on certain characteristics such as race or ethnicity.

The second bill amends a portion of the code titled “Unlawful Credit Screening Practices in Employment and removes existing exemptions for both law enforcement agencies and financial institutions. This means that all employees including law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, will be prohibited from obtaining or using credit-related information to evaluate employees and job applicants in most circumstances.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.