Testy testimony as Philadelphia debates paid sick days mandate

Even though Mayor Michael Nutter has once vetoed a bill demanding paid sick time for private-sector workers in Philadelphia, City Council is taking up the idea again.

Sparks flew at the hearing today.

Councilman Bill Greenlee, who reintroduced the earned sick leave bill, went on the offensive after Philadelphia’s health commissioner refused to testify at the hearing.

“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!'” said Greenlee. “I think this is one of the most disrespectful things that the mayor has ever done to City Council.”

A jobs defense

Instead of the health commissioner, the Nutter administration sent Commerce Director Alan Greenberger. He says the bill would hurt the city’s job climate.

“The legislation would make it more difficult for Philadelphia businesses, likely resulting in a loss of job opportunities that the bill is intended to help,” said Greenberger.

Kevin Klatte of the Philadelphia County Dental Society says his members might have to cut positions or vacation time if they suddenly have to offer paid sick days.

“We believe that as employers we should be able to offer paid sick days at our own discretion and without mandate because we feel we are at the best position to understand the unique needs of our practices, our patients and our workstaff,” he said.

Supporting the bill

Karen Barnes got sick from one of the kids at the daycare where she works and ended up missing two weeks pay while recovering. She says it’s time to make this idea law.

“Owners you can do it,” she said. “If you are able to have compassion, this is a human basic need.”

The legislation says about 40 percent of city private-sector workers in Philadelphia do not have paid sick time.

In 2011, council passed the sick leave bill, only to watch Mayor Nutter veto it.  Though they tried, supporters in council could not muster the 12 votes needed to override the veto.  

The membership on council has changed since then, so it’s unclear whether they would have any better luck securing 12 votes if there is another veto.

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