Council eyes bill for paid sick leave

Posted: March 01, 2011

When Tiffany Lomax's son turned 2, the single mother tried to go back to work, but her little boy's health issues kept getting in the way.

"Every time he got sick I had to take off," Lomax, 38, who lost several jobs as her son battled asthma, allergies and other afflictions, told the Daily News. "One job, my son had a seizure. I took three days off. When I came back they said: 'This isn't going to work out.' "

That was nearly 10 years ago. Lomax eventually landed an office job at Women's Way, an organization that advocates for women's equality. She said having paid sick days have been a lifeline for her family.

"Having a job with paid sick days has been a real blessing in my life," Lomax said. "I was able to advance. I was able to go back to school."

A City Council committee today will hear debate on proposed legislation that would require Philadelphia employers to grant paid sick leave.

Under the legislation, sponsored by Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Bill Greenlee, employees at businesses with 11 or more workers could earn up to nine paid sick days a year that they could use for themselves or to care for family. Workers at businesses with 10 or fewer workers can earn up to five days.

Advocates say the bill would help provide a safety net for an estimated 210,000 Philadelphia workers who don't have paid sick days.

But some businesses have raised concerns and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, saying it could hurt job creation in a tough economic time.

"The city of Philadelphia is already recognized as a high-cost location for doing business," said Chamber President Rob Wonderling. "We believe that the bill is well-intentioned and has merit from a policy perspective, but it's a matter of public policy that's best left to the nongovernmental sector to sort out."

Mayor Nutter yesterday avoided taking a position on the issue, but the administration is reportedly concerned about how the bill would affect job growth.

In a recent e-mail to the business community, city Commerce Director Kevin Dow encouraged businesses that oppose the legislation to testify at the hearing.

Paid sick-leave legislation was first passed in San Francisco in 2006. Several other cities have adopted similar policies.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research, a Washington think tank that focuses on women's issues, recently conducted a survey on how the policy has affected San Francisco.

It found that the typical worker uses three sick days a year and that a majority of businesses reported no impact on profitability.

Donna Levitt, director of San Francisco's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement Office, said there had been few complaints about workers abusing the policy and no evidence of businesses leaving that city due to sick-leave rules.

"We believe that paid sick leave is good public policy. It's good for workers, it's good for employers and good for public health," said Levitt, who is set to testify today via Skype.

Under the Philadelphia legislation, workers would start accruing sick leave after 30 days on the job.

Absences of more than three days would require a doctor's note.

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