Allegheny County Board of Health should support paid sick days for all

Allegheny County's Board of Health has proposed a health department regulation that would allow those who work for employers with 26 or more employees to accrue at least 40 hours of paid sick time in a calendar year based on the number of hours worked. In its current form, this regulation will leave out many workers, including those who work at restaurants, bars and cafes. As we have learned from the pandemic, illness will spread in these spaces and it doesn't care if a business is big or small!No matter where we live, what we look like, or how much money we have, we all need paid time to recover from illness or care for a sick loved one. That’s why since the pandemic began, Pittsburgh United members, including Just Harvest, have been pushing Allegheny County Council to pass legislation providing paid sick leave for all residents.

After months of committee inaction and debate over amendments that weakened the Paid Sick Days Act, Council finally passed a version earlier this year that won’t go into effect for a year and exempts businesses with 25 or fewer employees. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald promptly vetoed the bill in March. He says he supports paid sick days legislation but wants the Allegheny County Board of Health to authorize it.

Last month, the Board put out its paid sick days proposal – essentially the same as the council version – and opened a 30-day public comment period on it ending June 25. On June 24, the Board held a public hearing on the proposal at which dozens of people urged the Board to require that every employer provide paid sick days.

Pittsburgh United organizer Dan Davis spoke at the hearing. Their testimony is below.

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The other night, I was having a conversation with a friend who grew up in Germany about how I was going to speak at this hearing, to plead with health professionals to show support for working people by mandating businesses of any size provide us with paid sick days. His response was confusion. Not because he didn’t agree that all employers should be providing paid sick days, but because he didn’t understand how we didn’t already.

You see, he has never had paid sick leave written into any of his contracts in Germany. He told me that his “sick leave” policies have always been: if you’re sick, you get the time off and it’s paid.

Now I was the confused one. I researched policy on the matter and it turns out, by law, Germany requires businesses to provide six weeks of paid sick leave to workers at 100%. Even then, if you get sick because of the same underlying illness after six months have passed, you can use another six weeks within the year! That’s a mandatory minimum of six weeks for all and a maximum of twelve in certain circumstances.

I fully recognize that we are not living in Germany. If we were, our COVID-19 infection rates would have been much more marginal – in part because workers would have had the ability to stay at home instead of passing illness at work to coworkers and others entering their establishments, all so they could have a greater chance at paying their bills and putting food on their table. In fact, a UCSF study has shown that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the workers that had the highest risk of mortality were cooks at restaurants. Fourth on the list were bakers, and tenth were customer service representatives. 

As a former line cook at an Applebee’s and baker at a Dunkin Donuts franchise, neither of those jobs would have provided me paid sick leave under your current policy proposal because neither place had more than 25 workers at it during my time there. Two multinational companies with an immense amount of money, not required to provide paid sick time to employees among the most at risk for death during the current pandemic. 

I understand the want to “protect small businesses” by not “burdening” them with providing paid sick days for their employees—as if caring for your workers should ever be considered a burden. But the reality is that where paid sick leave policies have gone into effect, a vast majority of business owners are supportive and have stated the cost has been negligible or had minimal impact.

In meetings with the city of Pittsburgh, discussing their own paid sick days policy, I’ve been told complaints of undue burden were far and few between. And why are we trying to “support small businesses” that actively want to harm the workers we pretend they’re helping by simply existing?

It’s important to realize that the “small business exemption” in fact doesn’t have much of an impact on the businesses but instead has a massive impact on the over 137,000 workers at businesses with less than 26 workers in Allegheny County. These workers are primarily Black, brown, and women. 

At Pittsburgh United, I’m guaranteed 15 days of sick leave every year. It’s not something I’m grateful for because I shouldn’t have to be grateful that the organization I work for respects the fact that I, just like any other person, can get sick and will need time to heal.

Today, we’re demanding you give FIVE days of sick leave to all workers, regardless of the size of their employer. It’s nowhere near as much as workers deserve, but it will have significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of so many in our community.

Remove the employer exemption and support all workers by passing the paid sick days policy as quickly as possible. 


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