Philadelphia City Council approves measure to protect workers against retaliation for expressing coronavirus concerns

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Health care, food service, public transportation and hospitality are industries with a workforce that has been redefined as "essential employees" in the era of COVID-19.

While Pennsylvania, like many other states, has enacted orders to keep these workers safe, making sure they're enforced has been another story.

"They have very good protections, the problem is that there isn't the personnel to go into every workplace every day in the state of Pennsylvania and inspect those workplaces to make sure they are in compliance," said Rosslyn Wuchinich with UNITE HERE Local 274.

Enter: The Essential Workforce Protection Act.

"It's important for workers to be able to have a voice in the co-creation of a safe work environment," said councilmember Helen Gym.

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This first of its kind law in the state and in the country was first introduced by Philadelphia City Councilmember Gym. It passed unanimously Thursday during the council's last session.

What it does: protect employees against retaliation who blow the whistle on unsafe work conditions that could expose them to COVID-19.

"We are not taking this lightly. We want people to know that health comes first and this is in the best interest of both businesses, workers, and the public good," Gym said.

Proponents say this is crucial as the state and city begin to reopen, and fears of a second wave of the virus grow.

Unite Here says the measure doesn't just protect union employees and can help reassure workers who feel they may be more at-risk in losing their jobs they can speak out without repercussions.

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"This is also a racial justice victory, as well as a public health victory and a worker rights victory," said Wuchinich.

Deputy Mayor for Labor Rich Lazer testified in support of the bill. It is also believed Mayor Kenney fully intends to sign it into law.

"The administration firmly believes that all Philadelphia workers deserve the ability to report potential violations of public health orders without fear of retaliation. As we begin to reopen our economy, it is critical that employers are taking all necessary precautions to keep their workers healthy in order to help reduce the spread of coronavirus in Philadelphia," said Deputy Communications Director Lauren Cox.
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