Saturday, March 16, 2013

Council Passes Paid Sick Leave Bill

This past Thursday, City Council voted to pass the 2013 Earned Sick Days Bill, which mandates paid sick leave for workers, including part-time workers, in Philadelphia.

Mayor Nutter, however, is expected to veto the bill, much as he vetoed a similar bill last summer. At that time Nutter said, “I care a great deal about paid sick leave, but I care even more about people getting paid. People need jobs and that’s our number one priority.” Nutter expressed his belief that the bill would discourage businesses from setting up shop in the city.

Nutter’s comments were echoed by those of Councilman David Oh, who voted against the bill Thursday. Oh stated that the bill would be a “job-killer” in a city that needs more low-skill jobs.

I’m not going to lie. Oh’s statement struck me as hideous. Does Philadelphia really need more low-level jobs that pay skimpy wages and offer little to no benefits? One wouldn’t think so. But, consider this—a 2012 study by Pew Charitable Trusts  noted that only 23% of Philadelphians over the age of 25 have Bachelor’s degrees or higher, a figure the study sites as “well below the national average.” The study also claimed that in 2011, service-sector employers hired 3400 less workers than in the previous year, while those in the professional sector hired 700 more workers, and those in the educational sector hired 200 more workers.

Business owners opposing the bill say they just can’t afford to offer paid sick leave, and if they could workers would abuse it anyway. Workers say they deserve and need this benefit.

Councilman Bill Greenlee, who introduced the bill, noted during the Council meeting that the bill has been amended 23 times to accommodate business owners.

As I said in an earlier piece on this subject, I’m of two minds here. It sounds awfully cynical and a little mean spirited to conjecture that workers would abuse sick leave benefits, although some undoubtedly would. That said, must we throw the baby out with the bath water? People do get sick. Do we really want people coming to work when they're sick to maintain their pay level or to keep their jobs even? And, surely business owners can think of creative ways to offer incentive for workers to use the benefit responsibly (think PTO plans, or unused sick-day payouts, or recognition awards for good attendance)?

The Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces heavily supports the bill and gives its reasons for doing so here. According to the Coalition, the bill will save businesses money, due to increased productivity and decreased turnover. It’s unlikely, however, that these statistics will prove persuasive to detractors.

Even if Nutter does veto the bill, its supporters have promised to keep fighting the good fight. So, we’ll see what the next go round holds.

What do you think? Are low-level jobs needed to bolster the economy, or do they simply contribute to a permanent underclass that ultimately hurts the economy?

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