Allegheny County Council Plans Hearings On Sick Leave Bill, Aims For September Vote

May 26, 2020

Legislation that would establish paid sick leave at Allegheny County workplaces is poised to receive a thorough vetting, with a vote possible in September. On Tuesday, health and human services committee chair Cindy Kirk said that in coming weeks, her committee will hold additional meetings and public hearings on the bill, which would grant three to five paid sick days a year to most people who work full-time within the county.

“This ordinance is very complex,” Kirk said of the roughly 10-page proposal. “It is not an ordinance that we can sufficiently prepare to vote on in one meeting.”

“The committee members must come together publicly and debate these matters,” the Republican added. “It is imperative that on such important issues, that these proceedings include a full, open, and transparent vetting and deliberation of [the health and human services] committee.”

The Republican said her committee will first hold a meeting in two to three weeks to “gather information from involved groups,” including SEIU, a service-workers union that supports paid sick leave, and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, an industry trade group that sued the city of Pittsburgh over its sick-days policy in 2015.

Kirk said each of the committee’s seven members should also hold public hearings on the bill. She said council staff will explore the possibility of holding those forums virtually due to the coronavirus.

Ultimately, Kirk said she hopes to send the sick leave measure back to council in early September for a vote.

Kirk outlined her plan about a month after Democrats Pat Catena, Bethany Hallam, and Anita Prizio introduced the legislation. In that time, the bill has already elicited “many public comments,” both from supporters and opponents, according to Kirk.

The proposal notes that paid sick leave helps employees to avoid spreading illnesses to people they encounter at work, and it says the COVID-19 pandemic creates an added sense of urgency.

On Tuesday, Catena recounted a dining experience in which “the server that was waiting on us was sneezing and coughing a lot.”

The server said she wasn’t feeling well, but “basically it’s either I work or I don’t get paid, and I can’t afford not to get paid,” according to Catena.

“That’s simply not fair and not right, and actually contributes to the problem unfortunately,” the councilor said. He noted that research shows that paid sick leave helps to reduce the spread of disease.

But Democrat Bob Macey expressed doubts about the proposal, questioning whether “the government [should] tell businesses how to run their businesses.”

“I’m all for workers,” Macey said. “But could this be something in a union contract?”

The specifics of the measure are modeled off a paid sick leave ordinance that the city of Pittsburgh began to implement in March. The city’s law withstood a challenge at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last summer.

Like the city version, the county council bill would not cover independent contractors, state and federal workers, construction union members covered by a collective bargaining unit, or seasonal employees.

It would direct companies with 15 or more workers to provide at least five paid sick days annually. Smaller organizations would be required to provide at least three days a year.

At the county level, it remains unclear what role the county’s Board of Health legally might need to play in enacting paid sick leave. Kirk said that question will be part of her committee’s review.