The City Council has voted to require Philadelphia employers to provide paid time off for COVID-19-related absences through 2023

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A city council bill requiring many Philadelphia employers to give workers paid time off for COVID-19-related absences sparked fierce debate about its potential impact on small businesses before being approved Thursday at a a 12-4 vote.

The legislation, sponsored by council member Kendra Brooks, requires employers of 25 or more workers to offer up to 40 hours of paid leave if they show symptoms of COVID-19, need to self-isolate after being exposed or have to deal with coronavirus. positive family members, among other circumstances.

There is currently no city-required COVID-19 paid leave for workers, after a previous iteration of Brooks’ measure expired in June 2021. Brooks’ new bill reinstates that policy, which only concerned companies with 50 or more workers, and extends it to more employers. It will remain in force until the end of 2023.

“With many other protections being phased out, we need to ensure that we are not sacrificing our workforce for convenience or profit,” Brooks said in a statement. “This is a victory for low-wage workers across the city who can now go to work with peace of mind that they will never have to choose between staying home sick with COVID-19 and not being able to pay the rent or go into work sick.”

Yet Brooks, a member of the Progressive Working Families Party, found herself on the defensive at Thursday’s meeting, with other members questioning whether the bill could force small businesses out of business or if she had Properly disseminated the research on the bill to his colleagues. .

Much of the debate has centered on the provision which exempts all businesses with fewer than 25 workers, which will impact around 3,000 businesses. Brooks originally proposed applying the requirement to businesses with 10 or more workers, but changed the threshold to 25 last week after other Council members, some of whom supported a threshold of 50 workers, refused.

“Philadelphia is on the brink of recovery, on the brink of collapse, and this legislation will be another reason employers choose to leave the city or move elsewhere,” council member Allan Domb said.

The federal government mandated paid leave for many workers during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, funded entirely by a payroll tax credit. But the measure expired and was not renewed.

Brooks said the 25-employee threshold exempts 85% of Philadelphia employers, which she says means small businesses and black- and brown-owned businesses, which have fewer employees on average, will be protected. A threshold of 50 employees, she said, would exempt 94% of employers, making it too limited to help many workers.

Public disputes are rare in the Council, where members usually settle disagreements behind closed doors before publicly presenting a more polite front. Thursday’s debate was an exception, with several MPs, some of whom ended up voting for the bill, raising concerns during the virtual meeting.

The Council’s two Republicans, David Oh and Brian O’Neill, were joined by two Democrats, Domb and Derek Green, in opposing the bill. Green, a lawyer, and Domb, a real estate mogul, are known as pro-business Democrats, and rumors have it that both are eyeing the 2023 mayoral race.

Also on Thursday, the Council approved legislation from Green that allows the city to create a new quasi-governmental entity called the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, which Green hopes will provide loans to disadvantaged businesses, particularly black and black-owned businesses. to dark-haired people who often find it difficult to obtain credit.

“Lack of access to credit, which has been reiterated by many small business owners of color as their greatest challenge and greatest impediment to their ability to grow and prosper, has been the basis for the legislation which passed today,” Green said. in a report.

The council voted 15 to 1 to approve the bill, with O’Neill in opposition.

Green worked for years to create a public bank in Philadelphia that would hold and invest the city’s money, instead of keeping the city’s funds in accounts at private banks. But it has come up against limitations in state law, fears that a public bank could be unduly influenced by political pressures, and skepticism about whether existing entities, like the financial institutions of community development certified, are better charged with doing the work.

Green hopes that the creation of the Financial Authority is the first step towards the creation of a public bank.

But it’s unclear whether the city will make that first move any time soon, if ever. Although Council approved the plan to create the authority, it is up to Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to execute the plan, and city officials have previously expressed skepticism about the proposal.

Chief Financial Officer Rob Dubow previously told the Council that while administration officials “wholeheartedly support the broad policy objectives outlined in the bill…we don’t know how it will address these significant issues of a way that existing entities cannot”.

Asked Thursday whether the administration would proceed with establishing the authority now that the bill has passed, Kenney spokesman Kevin Lessard said the city is still reviewing the legislation.

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