Paid Sick Days Passes Committee After Sparks Fly in City Hall

paidsickdaysignThe fight for paid sick days has been long, and yesterday’s hearing before the Public Health and Human Services Committee began bright and early, with several advocates meeting media before the session began to tell their stories.

“We have found that treating workers fairly is good for business,” said Janet Filante, owner of Childspace Daycare. “This is a floor benefit, that all childcare programs and all businesses can afford.”

Filante was joined by Pathways PA senior director of policy Marianne Bellesorte; childcare provider Karen Barnes; Rosemary Devine, a waitress; Janet Filante, also a childcare provider; and two economists who provided numerical advocacy for the Paid Sick Leave bill, which would mandate companies with more than five employees provide earned sick time to their workers.

Keystone Research Center economist Stephen Herzenberg added: “Earned sick days also has economic and bottom line benefits for businesses and for the city,” including a community member’s sickness affecting everyone’s bottom line down the road if s/he has to go to the emergency room.

“Just like when an employer pollutes, you need pollution standards. In the case of earned sick days, you need minimum standards,” he added.

The bill would later clear committee after five hours of testimony but its final fate—especially in lieu of Mayor Nutter’s likely veto—is sill up in the air.

Tension around the issue between the bill’s prime sponsor Bill Greenlee and the mayoral administration became obvious early on, when Mayor Nutter’s representative at the meeting, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Director of Commerce Alan Greenberger, was set to speak — and Health Commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz was not.

“The strategy suggested in this legislation—when imposed at a Municipal level as opposed to a state or national level—would create a significant disadvantage for Philadelphia businesses and the competitiveness of our city’s economy,” said Greenberger in his testimony.

In spite of that, he said, he and the administration believed the “intent of this bill” was “commendable.”

The main issue surrounding the administrations’, and several business interests’, opposition, is the mystery aspect. Will letting workers call out and still get paid hurt local business’ bottom line? No one can say for sure. But business interests the city round don’t seem too willing to find out. Greenberger actually added that the bill would hurt the city’s ability to compete both in “the global marketplace as we attempt to grow our economy, attract new business and increase economic opportunities for all Philadelphians,” according to his prepared testimony.

If the bill is passed, “we’ll never know who chose not to come to Philadelphia because of this [negative economic] reputation [due to paid sick days],” Greenberger added.

After his testimony, things got testy between Greenberger and Councilman Greenlee culminating when the councilman told Greenberger he “can’t handle the truth” that paid sick days is good for the city’s overall health, which is why, he suspected, Greenberger, not Schwarz, spoke. Greenlee also told Greenberger his seven-page testimony used the word “health” just once.

“This is the health committee. Do you not acknowledge there is not a health aspect? I acknowledge there is an economic aspect,” Greenlee said. “Why won’t the administration acknowledge the health aspect?”

Greenberger responded: “I wish I could answer that. I didn’t talk with Dr. Schwarz about that.”

“C’mon!” Greenlee responded.

“I didn’t.”

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” Greenlee said again as applause amongst the audience began.

“…This is my concern,” Greenlee soon continued, “because if you don’t know, I’m going to take an educated guess. We were gonna subpoena Dr. Schwarz, and I didn’t think that was fair because I think Dr. Schwarz is an honorable man and would have come here and told the truth. And the truth is, a big part of this issue is about the health of Philadelphians, the health of low-income workers. And to steal Jack Nicholson’s line, ‘You can’t handle the truth,’ OK?”

He added: “I think this is one of the most disrespectful things that City Council has- I mean, that the mayor has ever [done] to City Council.”

Several others testified throughout the day—from both sides of the issue. The bill will likely see full Council later this month.

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