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Allegheny County Sick Leave Bill Makes It Out Of Committee, Council Vote Expected Soon

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Jared Murphy
/
90.5 WESA
Republican Cindy Kirk, chair of Allegheny County Council's health and human services committee, cast the lone committee vote against a proposed paid sick leave mandate Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Allegheny County Council could vote as soon as next week on a proposal to mandate paid sick leave at workplaces across Allegheny County. Council’s health and human services committee approved the measure Wednesday, but not before passing an amendment that would exempt employers with 25 or fewer workers from the bill’s requirements.

The panel voted 5-to-1 to return the legislation to the full council for a vote. Only Republican Cindy Kirk was opposed, although Democrat Bob Macey, who had dialed into the meeting, did not respond when called on twice to vote. He has yet to state his position on the legislation.

Council clerk Jared Barker said that council could vote on the bill at its next meeting Tuesday, almost a year after Democrats Pat Catena, Bethany Hallam, and Anita Prizio introduced it.

Under the original legislation, firms with 15 or more employees would have been required to provide at least five paid sick days a year to full-time workers. Those at smaller businesses would have accrued up to three sick days a year.

But on Wednesday, Kirk, who chairs the health committee, proposed the exemption for employers with up to 25 workers.

“I’ve received calls from small businesses with this request,” Kirk told other committee members. And she said that setting a floor at 26 employees served as an acceptable compromise after Macey proposed last month a threshold of 51 employees.

“It’s imperative that we don’t impose any more expense on [small businesses] other than what they’ve lost and what COVID has cost them,” Macey said Wednesday. “Twenty-five employees, I think, is a fair [threshold].”

Democrat Tom Duerr countered, however, that “this bill is designed to tackle and affect the health and well-being of an entire community” by preventing people from coming to work ill and infecting others.

Duerr noted that the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated the potential for disease to spread at exponential rates.

“Whether you have one employee or 100, the health of those employees should matter,” he said.

Despite such concerns, the committee approved the exemption in a 4-to-3 vote. In addition to Kirk and Macey, Republican Tom Baker and Democrat Paul Zavarella voted in favor of the change. Democrat Liv Bennett joined Duerr and Prizio in opposing it.

Kirk and Macey had less success, however, with the remainder of the provisions they introduced Wednesday.

The committee voted against proposals to exclude unionized workers and substitute teachers from the sick leave mandate, meaning the only groups not covered by the legislation would include independent contractors, state and federal workers, construction union members belonging to a collective bargaining unit, and seasonal employees.

The panel also rejected three amendments that sought to delay the date on which the legislation would take effect.

That means that, if the bill passes and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald signs it into law, the county administration will immediately be tasked with developing regulations to enforce it and will need to notify employers. The rest of the bill would take effect 90 days after that work is complete.

At Wednesday’s committee meeting, Democrat Nick Futules questioned whether the county health board would need to review the legislation before it could become law. Kirk said that if the bill makes it to Fitzgerald's desk, he will decide whether the board must get involved.