Phila. City Council debates paid sick leave for restaurant workers

January 24, 2013 4:11:19 PM PST
Philadelphia restaurant workers are using the nationwide flu epidemic to rally for mandatory paid sick leave.

In Philadelphia City Council, the debate is well underway.

Thousands of low-pay employees of food establishments are not offered paid sick leave by their employers. That puts them at risk of wage and job loss, while spreading germs.

At least 60% of them, according to studies, report to work while sick.

"I've seen people cut their fingers, cough, be actually quite sick, still with stitches when they went to the hospital the night before, working on the line, cutting people's food and serving it to them," Che Saitta of the advocate group Fight for Philly told City Council members.

"We believe that earned sick days are incredibly important for many women and families who are working low-wage jobs, trying every day to make ends meet and in a really tough position when they have to choose between either working sick or maybe not being able to afford their rent, possibly losing their job," said Marianne Bellesorte of Pathways Pennsylvania.

A paid sick leave bill passed City Council two years ago. But it was vetoed by Mayor Nutter.

With lots of new council members and the flu season raging, the bill's sponsor is going to try again. He introduced a new paid leave plan on Thursday.

"The flu epidemic has really ramped up the interest in this bill because it shows why it's needed, not just for the worker, but also for co-workers and for the public in general," said Councilman-at-Large Bill Greenlee

The opposition is already fine-tuning their traditional arguments against a mandatory law.

"Businesses each day are working to pay the bills and operate their business as a going concern and employ their employees. So this is an added cost," said Joe Grace of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

"Restaurants and the members of our association operate on about a 4 cents for every dollar profit margin. Something like this, the industry just can't afford it right now," said Melissa Bova of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association.

Contentious public hearings about this on-going issue will be scheduled for sometime next month. Another showdown vote in City Council is likely before springtime.