Nutter vetoes paid-sick-time bill

Posted: June 29, 2011

As expected, Mayor Nutter vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have required many businesses to allow their employees to accrue paid sick time.

Because City Council does not meet again until Sept. 8, the bill's sponsors have the summer to lobby for the 12 votes necessary to overturn the mayor - but that could be a daunting task.

The bill passed this month with the minimum of nine votes amid the horse-trading of several contentious tax-increase proposals.

One of the votes in favor was cast by Councilman Bill Green, who opposed paid sick leave, but supported the bill in a deal to prevent the mayor's soda tax from passing.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored paid sick leave along with Majority Whip Darrell L. Clarke, said he was disappointed the mayor did not give the bill more consideration.

"I was hoping we could have a conversation first," he said, shortly after Nutter notified him of the veto. "There was a lot of time and effort put into this, so I don't feel like having a conversation would have been out of line."

Nutter announced his decision in the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue offices of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, while a hastily organized gathering of about 30 protesters waited by the elevators.

"The paid-sick-leave bill . . . would put thousands of jobs at risk and discourage businesses from coming to the city of Philadelphia," Nutter said. "I do not believe this is the time or place for this legislation."

This was the mayor's second veto in a week. On Thursday, he turned aside Council's bill to overhaul the controversial DROP pension program. Nutter favors ending the program.

His DROP veto is likely to be overturned in September, since the bill passed with a comfortable 14 votes.

Paid sick leave was backed by a broad coalition of advocacy groups as a public-health issue and a matter of basic fairness.

The business community was nearly universal in opposition, saying employees would abuse sick time as "unscheduled, paid vacation." A handful of business owners testified at Council that they would leave the city if the bill passed.

Greenlee said there were 19 changes made to the bill to appease business concerns.

"We tried to address the major stuff they came to us with, except 'Don't do it,' which is what they really wanted," he said.

The debate often pitted employers against employees. Restaurant servers were big backers, while owners were lined up against.

Garth Weldon, chairman of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, said the industry was struggling with higher food prices. He applauded the veto.

"It's still a very tough business environment," said Weldon, who is a partner of The Prime Rib, a 225-seat eatery in Center City. "Anything that can help us in small businesses keep afloat without an additional cost is good."

But Marianne Bellestorte, senior director of policy for PathWaysPa, an organization that provides services and advocacy for women, children, and families, said a poll taken by advocates found 71 percent of city residents were in favor of the bill.

"I'm very disappointed that the mayor is not with the 71 percent of Philadelphians who support paid sick leave," she said. "We're going to fight for paid sick time until everyone has access to it. It's a public-health issue."

Nutter said that he supported the intent of the legislation but that the bill should be enacted on a state or federal level. If only Philadelphia had a paid-sick-leave requirement, the city would be at a "competitive disadvantage" in the region, he said.

"I care a great deal about paid sick leave, but I care even more about people getting paid," Nutter said. "People need jobs, and that's our number-one priority."


Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730, tgraham@phillynews.com, or @troyjgraham on Twitter.

 

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