Philadelphia City Council panel approves paid sick-leave bill

Businesses in the city would be required to give employees some paid sick time under legislation passed Tuesday by a City Council committee but opposed by the Nutter administration.

The administration argues that adding to businesses' costs would be a bad move in a city where unemployment is nearly 11 percent.

"Philadelphians would like jobs with good benefits. But first and foremost, Philadelphians simply want and need jobs," Commerce Director Alan Greenberger testified.

Greenberger said he would support paid sick leave if required at the state or national level because that would not alter the city's competitiveness.

Councilmen Darrell L. Clarke and Bill Greenlee sponsored the bill, which still must be voted on by the full Council, perhaps as early as March 10.

The bill requires that employees at businesses with 11 or more workers be able to earn up to nine paid sick days a year that they could use for themselves or to care for family. Only five days would be required at companies with 10 or fewer employees.

Some business owners support the proposed law, while others said it would force them to fire people.

Dewetta Logan, owner of Smart Beginnings Early Learning Center, a child-care facility in West Philadelphia, provides five paid sick days each to her staff of seven.

"Paid sick days have also benefited my bottom line by reducing staff turnover," she said. "The costs of replacing workers, including advertising positions, interviewing, and training new employees, are greater than costs of offering paid sick days to retain current employees."

Kenneth Kaiserman, president of a real estate development and management company of the same name, said he believed he would have to dismiss six part-time workers from his staff of about 170 if the law passed to avoid the extra cost.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce said its members opposed the bill. Only two other large cities, Washington and San Francisco, have such a law.

Security guard Needum O'Briant said paid time off was simply the right thing to do.

When O'Briant got a bad headache in December 2009, an emergency-room doctor diagnosed him as having swine flu and told him to rest for five to seven days.

"I only took three days off because I knew the fourth would cost me my job," O'Briant said.

In about five hours of testimony before Council, proponents and opponents of the bill tried to answer this basic question: What is the cost when an employee works while sick, and who should pay for it?

Paid sick leave often requires businesses to pay two workers for the same time, the one who is sick and a replacement employee, driving up costs.

But Greenlee argued that the calculation should include the cost of spreading infections, a risk that is especially great for patients in nursing homes.

"It's not just a money issue," Greenlee said. "It's a health issue."

About 40 percent of Philadelphia's private-sector workers have no paid sick leave, according to the Drum Major Institute, which describes itself as a nonpartisan think tank focused on urban policy.

Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or