During the only public hearing on Pittsburgh Councilman Corey O’Connor’s legislation requiring businesses in the city to grant employees paid sick leave, restaurateur Joe Tambellini warned that the process had moved too quickly.
But his voice, like that of Priory Hotel owner John Graf who called the legislation “banana republic stuff,” were drowned out by those of representatives from multiple activist groups, shift workers and a person dressed as “Sammy the snot,” who said upwards of 50,000 workers had to choose between losing a day’s pay and coming to work sick or sending a sick child to school.
In a 7-1 vote, council approved the bill Aug. 3, less than a month after its introduction. North Side Councilwoman Darlene Harris abstained and Hill District Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle voted no, citing the impact on small businesses.
In its final version, the legislation allows workers at businesses that employ 15 or more people to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked to a maximum of 40 hours, which can be used for an employee illness or injury or that of a family member.
At businesses with fewer than 15 employees, workers can accrue up to 24 hours of sick time. Those small businesses would be exempt for one year.
But the entire process may have been so much political theater as council ignored an opinion from the city’s law department saying the legislation would not withstand a legal challenge.
Harris said the opinion cited provisions in the home rule law that prohibit the city from determining “duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers.”
In 2004, council passed legislation requiring that janitors be kept on the job for six months when a new contractor took over. It was struck down in court.
O’Connor, whose father, the late Mayor Bob O’Connor, was a restaurant manager for the Pappan’s chain before entering politics, said the issue is a health concern, and should therefore stand up to legal challenges.
There is nothing in the city charter, he said, that “talks about the morality of doing what’s right for residents.”
Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the mayor plans to sign the legislation adding that it could withstand a challenge depending “on how it is implemented.”
Kevin Joyce, who runs The Carlton restaurant Downtown, said council exceeded its authority.
“The only way you can affect the outcome is through a legal challenge,” he said. “And I fully expect a legal challenge will be filed.”
Doris Carson Williams, president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce said her members have not budgeted for the legislation’s requirements.
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