Comment to Allegheny County Council in support of Paid Sick Days bill

In April 2020, Allegheny County Council members introduced a Paid Sick Days Act to require paid sick time for employees in the county in order to protect public health. Democratic council members Olivia Bennett, Pat Catena, Tom Duerr, Bethany Hallam, and Anita Prizio are the sponsors.

Since then, several amendments have weakened the bill, including one that exempts all businesses of 25 or fewer employees. Nevertheless, Just Harvest is supporting the passage of this law. We will continue to work with fellow members of the Pittsburgh United Workers Organizing Table to improve it to cover as many workers as possible.

The comments we submitted to Council in support of this bill are below.

What you can do

orange arrowSend comments to Allegheny County Council by 5pm Monday, March 8 on why you support this ordinance before the council votes on it at the public council meeting 5pm on March 9.

Just Harvest is a nonprofit organization that has worked to address the root causes of hunger in Allegheny County and beyond for more than 30 years. In 2015, Just Harvest supported Pittsburgh City Council passing a paid sick days law. They did, recognizing it was critical to the physical and economic well-being of those who dine and work in Pittsburgh.

Tens of thousands of workers in Pittsburgh had employers who didn’t allow them even a single day off with pay when they fell ill. At the time — and these numbers are likely comparable for the county – they comprised 40% of Pittsburgh’s private sector workforce, and 77% of its service workers, particularly food service and healthcare. They were either going to work sick or losing their jobs whenever serious illness struck.

Well, serious illness has struck on an epic scale. The end of this historic pandemic, despite the production of powerful vaccines, is not clearly in sight. It’s possible that tens of thousands of Allegheny County workers will be sick with COVID in the years before it declines in severity to something more like the common cold or flu. What’s definite is that 100% of the county’s workforce will catch some kind of contagious illness at some point. A sick employee is costly enough. It’s well documented that employees who spread sickness at work cause even greater hits to productivity and morale and greater economic loss. Forcing them to stay home without pay or firing them just shifts those costs to their families and communities.

The residents of this county who live outside of Pittsburgh need the basic job and public health protections that a county paid sick days ordinance would provide. Low-wage workers are most likely to lack paid sick days; they are disproportionately women and people of color. You have a responsibility to address those disparities through your role in public office. Otherwise, you’re compounding the harm by requiring they choose between enduring further hardship from losing pay, or spreading their infection at work.

Any change to a workplace is difficult. But all the changes won by the labor movement in the 20th century – a 40-hour workweek, fair wages, equal opportunity provisions, health and retirement benefits – built this country’s middle class. Those who opposed them were on the wrong side of history and of economics; American business didn’t collapse. A healthy thriving workforce is what makes an economy, and a county, grow.

It’s long past time to stop letting employers punish workers for falling ill. People shouldn’t have to risk poverty just to address basic human needs. This ordinance is not merely the morally right thing to do. It is good for workers, for customers, for business, and for this county.

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