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Politics & Government

Allegheny County Workers Get Paid Sick Leave In Unanimous Council Vote, Ending More Than A Year Of Debate

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Jared Murphy
/
90.5 WESA
Democrat Pat Catena was one of three Allegheny County councilors to introduce a proposal in April 2020 to create a countywide paid sick leave mandate. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald vetoed that legislation but plans to sign a similar measure that the county Board of Health approved in July and county council passed Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Workers across Allegheny County will soon begin to accrue up to five paid sick days a year. Allegheny County Council unanimously approved legislation on Tuesday to require the benefit at workplaces with 26 or more workers.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald will sign the bill into law, according to a spokesperson.

There are no precise figures on how many businesses the policy will impact. But 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 18% of nearly 34,000 establishments in the county have at least 20 employees. Those located in the city of Pittsburgh are already required under a local ordinance to provide up to five paid sick days annually to full-time workers.

Democratic county council President Pat Catena hailed Tuesday’s vote.

“It took a long time in getting here, but it was well worth it because this is a win for all of Allegheny County,” he said.

Catena first proposed a sick leave mandate nearly a year and half ago, along with Democrats Bethany Hallam and Anita Prizio. Although council passed that bill in a 15-4 vote in March, Fitzgerald vetoed it, saying that by law the county’s Board of Health must first approve any health regulations.

In July, the health board passed the regulation that council accepted Tuesday. It mostly mirrors the vetoed legislation.

It will allow employees to use sick time to care for themselves or a sick family member. They may accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked, with full-time workers guaranteed at least five paid sick days a year. The policy does not cover independent contractors, state and federal workers, or seasonal employees.

The policy will take full effect three months after Fitzgerald approves it. And starting in a year, employers can be fined up to $100 each time they violate the rules.

Although he voted against council’s original sick leave proposal, Republican Sam DeMarco backed the idea after it received the health board’s blessing.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, he said, “For all the folks who are looking forward to this legislation, who’ve been waiting to get this approved so that they would be able to have access to these paid sick leaves, I think this [vote] demonstrates … the importance of doing it the right way.”

“We might have been able to deliver this to these folks months earlier if we had gone to the health department in the first place and had them initiate this legislation,” he added.

While some worry about the costs the new mandate will create for businesses, Democrats on council have said they hope eventually to extend it to establishments of all sizes. And some members of the health board, which would need to initiate any amendments to the regulation, have expressed a similar aim.

“We still have to do everything we can to ensure that eventually this bill covers every county worker regardless of the size of their employer,” Democratic councilor Tom Duerr said Tuesday.