Q&A: Marianne Bellesorte of Pathways PA on Paid Sick Leave

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Advocates for paid sick leave in Philadelphia went door-to-door through City Hall on Valentine’s Day, hitting the offices of freshman City Councilmen Bobby Henon, Denny O’Brien and Mark Squilla as part of a community lobbying effort for voters to “show their love for sick days.” They delivered more than 500 hand-written letters from voters, calling on those three Council members to get on board with Councilman Bill Greenlee’s new bill that would require Philly employers to offer paid sick leave. (In 2011, a similar bill made its way through Council, passed by one vote, and was then vetoed by Mayor Nutter.)

Philadelphia Weekly caught up outside Councilman Squilla’s office with Marianne Bellesorte, senior director of policy for Pathways PA, which helped organize the lobbying effort.

How long have you been involved in this campaign?

Seven years now. But, you know, things really took off around 2010 and 2011. We’ve been a big part of it since then.

Have you been in touch with the groups classically opposed to sick-leave legislation, like the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association or the Chamber of Commerce?

We’ve talked to them either on our own or in meetings facilitated through City Council. We did most of that, really, last year and the year before — discussing the bill, discussing what changes might be made that could make it something that everyone could really agree on. We listened to a lot of their concerns. Some of the changes that were made included extending the amount of time someone had to work so they could earn sick days.

So how has that requirement been written in this year’s bill?

It’s at 90 days. We also lowered the number of sick days that people could earn under the standard. It originally was going to be 9 days per year. Now it’s at 7 days for larger businesses and four days for smaller businesses, between six and 10 people. And we added an exemption for mom-and-pop businesses, to make sure that businesses with five people or fewer did not have to provide earned sick days until they were ready to do so. Those are all things that have come out of our conversations with groups like that.

What have you taken their reaction to be, thus far?

Their reaction still seems to be the same as it was before we started meeting with them: They are opposed to the bill. From our perspective, we have watched this type of legislation in other cities. It has been incredibly successful there. It’s been something that businesses have grown to appreciate and that employees immediately appreciate. It is certainly the right thing to do for workers in this economy.

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