Holmesburg’s Carmen Wallace works at a health-care center and needed some time off in December because she was battling an illness.
Luckily for the 46-year-old woman, her company offers paid sick time.
“The flu epidemic was going around at the time. I got paid for the three days I was out,” she said.
On Feb. 7, Wallace was at the district office of City Councilman Bobby Henon, calling on him to support a bill that would provide paid sick time for tens of thousands of people who work in Philadelphia workers who do not have the benefit.
“Your sick time would accumulate, and when you got sick, you could use the time off,” she said.
Why did the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces target Henon?
According to Jasmine Rivera, Action United’s southeast regional director, Henon is “on the fence” about supporting the measure.
“It’s good for business, it’s good for workers and it’s good for public health,” she said.
Henon, (D-6th dist.), is, indeed, on the fence.
“I’m concerned about businesses, small businesses in particular, especially in this economy,” he said. “But I certainly understand that we don’t want people coming to work sick. I’ll wait for the hearings.”
Councilman Bill Greenlee (D-at large) is sponsoring a bill that would require companies with 11 or more employees to provide up to seven paid sick days per year, depending on the number of hours worked by the individual.
Companies with 10 or fewer workers would be required to provide up to four sick days.
A similar bill passed in 2011 by a vote of 9-8. Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed the measure.
“We need twelve votes for a veto-proof majority,” Rivera said.
Some members of Congress are beginning to push for such a bill at the federal level, but passage seems unlikely, for now. The state of Connecticut has a law providing paid sick time, as do the cities of Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Measures are being debated in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York City and Portland, Ore.
Most of the people who do not have paid sick time in Philadelphia work in the health care, hotel and restaurant industries.
The mayor believed that the earlier bill’s costs would have hurt existing businesses and discouraged others from moving to the city.
That’s the thinking in New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposes a similar bill overwhelmingly favored by its City Council. Speaker Christine Quinn, a leading contender to succeed the term-limited Bloomberg in this year’s election, is refusing to call the bill up for a vote.
Many Philadelphia businesses opposed the original bill because they feared healthy workers would use accumulated sick time to plan vacations.
The 2011 election brought in six new Council members, and Greenlee and supporters of his bill hope to get the 12 votes needed to override an expected second veto from Nutter.
There are seven co-sponsors of the bill: Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwomen Maria Quinones Sanchez, Marian Tasco and Cindy Bass and Councilmen Wilson Goode Jr., Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones.
In addition, Rivera said the coalition has received commitments of support from Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Jannie Blackwell.
The coalition expects opposition from Councilmen Brian O’Neill, David Oh, Bill Green and Mark Squilla.
Joining Henon on the fence, according to the coalition, are Councilmen Denny O’Brien and Jim Kenney.
Henon was elected in 2011. His predecessor, Joan Krajewski, voted against the bill.
Ten members of the coalition stopped by Henon’s office at 6730 Torresdale Ave. in Tacony. They brought a basket filled with flu-prevention and cold-fighting remedies: tissues, hand sanitizer, bandages, first aid cream, cough drops, green tea and other items.
Henon was not at the office as Council was in session. His staffers accepted the basket.
Coalition members stood in the street on Torresdale Avenue, holding signs in English and Spanish that read, “Honk for Workers Rights” and “Honk for Paid Sick Time.”
As for O’Brien, an at-large Republican from Millbrook, he’ll be voting on the bill for the first time, having been elected in 2011. Last week, supporters of the bill delivered more than 1,000 letters, postcards and petitions to Council members, with O’Brien, Henon and Squilla receiving the most.
The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the bill, but would favor the city giving tax incentives to businesses that voluntarily adopt the policy.
The coalition believes the public is on its side.
“It really can make the difference between life and death. It only makes common sense,” Rivera said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org