“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our communities and social distancing has become the norm,” said Councilor Anita Prizio (D-O’Hara), who introduced the bill along with Council President Pat Catena (D-Carnegie) and Bethany Hallam (D-Ross). “Yet many of our workers who deal with the public on a regular basis lack access to paid sick days.”
If passed, private employers in the county would be required to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours an employee works. Employers with 15 workers or more would have to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick time, and employers with fewer than 15 workers would be required to offer up to 24 hours of paid sick time.
However, even as the pandemic has raged on and Allegheny County has tallied more than 1,600 COVID-19 infections and more than 300 hospitalizations, the paid sick leave bill has gone nowhere.
Hallam says this is unacceptable. And is calling on the bill to be heard and discussed in County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee.
“Businesses across Allegheny County are poised to open, and many workers will be headed back to work without adequate paid sick leave protections. It's time for County Council to act to protect working families across Allegheny County,” said Hallam in a statement. “We’re playing with human lives while we drag our feet, and that’s not what I was elected to do.”
The HHS Committee is chaired by councilor Cindy Kirk (R-Wexford). Kirk did not return requests for comment for this story. An HHS Committee is scheduled for May 26, but no agenda or meeting details are currently available. The HHS Committee hasn’t met since 2019. In addition to the three councilors who introduced the bill, Councilor Liv Bennett (D-North Side) is also a sponsor of the paid sick leave ordinance.
The city of Pittsburgh has had a paid sick leave law on the books since March 15. Many supporters of the bill noted the beneficial timing, as the coronavirus cases started to trickle into Allegheny County that week, but workers in the city would have access to some paid sick days, thanks to the law.
The proposed Allegheny County legislation is modeled after the Pittsburgh law, which was held up by the state Supreme Court last year after challenges from restaurant lobbying groups. Because the Pittsburgh bill survived a court challenge, advocates believe the county’s bill should be implemented without hiccups, as long as it passes council.
Advocacy group Pittsburgh United worked on drafting the paid sick leave bill proposed by the county, and urged that paid sick time is especially important now, since many essential workers are confronted with many people each day who might be sick, or even infected with COVID-19.
“Now more than ever, as we battle a global pandemic for the foreseeable future, Allegheny County residents need and deserve legislation that responds to our community’s health and safety. Time is of the essence,” said Nathan Malachowski of Pittsburgh United. “The people most impacted by the County’s lack of paid sick days are women and people of color. No one should lose their job or income because of a virus they couldn’t avoid.”
If passed, the county’s paid sick leave bill will likely provide paid sick time to tens of thousands of workers who currently don’t have any, according to Sam Williamson, the Western Pennsylvania director of the Service Employees International Union.