State Bill Would Erase Local Sick Leave Laws in Pennsylvania

A visibly sick woman at work.

From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

By Laura Legere

A bill advancing in the Pennsylvania Senate would ensure that Pittsburgh’s currently suspended 2015 ordinance mandating paid sick leave will never take effect.

Senate Bill 128 would prohibit Pennsylvania municipalities from requiring employers to provide any form of paid or unpaid employee leave that is not required by federal or state law. It would also strike down existing local ordinances that impose it.

The bill was amended in committee last month so it applies retroactively to Jan. 1, 2015, to make sure that paid sick leave ordinances in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh “would be null and void,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, said.

The measure’s supporters say labor policy should be established at the state and federal level to provide uniformity for businesses.

“With over 2,500 municipalities in Pennsylvania, to have one or two municipalities or several do something like this was really crazy,” Mr. Eichelberger said during the committee meeting. “It was extremely disruptive to the business community.”

Pittsburgh’s ordinance requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to five days of paid sick leave annually and smaller businesses to provide up to three days of leave.

An Allegheny County judge struck down the ordinance before it could take effect, finding that state law prohibits the city from imposing such requirements on businesses. A state court is considering the city’s appeal.

Supporters of mandated paid sick leave say jobs without paid leave tend to be filled by the most financially vulnerable workers who go to work sick because they can’t afford not to or because they fear being fired.

In a statement, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff Kevin Acklin said, “This legislation being considered in Harrisburg would force employees to have to come to work while sick, which is cruel to some of our lowest paid employees and undermines public health. Pittsburgh’s ordinance provides protections to workers and their families, and we will continue to defend in court the right to protect our residents."

A bill mirroring the current Senate proposal passed quickly through the Senate last session with a vote of 37-12, but it did not move in the House.

The conservative Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which supports policies that limit municipalities’ authority to regulate businesses, said in a policy brief earlier this month that the current bill is a “good start” but it faces “poor prospects” of being signed into law. The governor is likely to veto it, the institute said, and an override vote “is improbable” in the House — where, unlike the Senate, Republicans do not hold a veto-proof majority.

An estimated 200,000 people in Philadelphia would lose sick leave if the Senate bill becomes law, Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said at the committee meeting.

At the time it was passed, Pittsburgh’s ordinance was estimated to give paid sick leave to 50,000 workers whose jobs didn’t previously provide it.

Read more from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.