Pa. restaurant association fighting Pittsburgh ordinance requiring 40 hours of paid sick leave

By Hoang Tran | Nov 11, 2015

PITTSBURGH– Pittsburg’s sick leave ordinance is a law that breaks the law, according to Melissa Bova, director of Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Her association argued that the city has no authority in passing such an order. Earlier this year, the Pittsburgh City Council invoked its authority under the Disease Prevention and Control Law and enacted a new ordinance that requires employers to pay employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each year.

“We have actually filed a suit against the law. The concern we have is that Pittsburgh is governed by a home ruled charter that specifically states that the city council can not determine duties, responsibilities, or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations, or employers," Bova said.

"So we quite clearly believe that it says you cannot pass a paid sick leave mandate on private businesses in the city of Pittsburgh. So it’s not the issue of them wanting to pass paid sick leave for us. It’s an issue that they pass a law that breaks the law. And that is why we filed suit on the issue."

It was passed suspiciously quickly and before the summer recess, according to Bova.

“The legislation was introduced in the beginning of July and it was passed in three-and-a-half weeks. In comparison, when Philadelphia passed their sick leave ordinance, it took them five years," she said.

"So it [the sick leave ordinance] was passed quickly. They only have one public hearing on it and it passed with one negative vote and one abstention. The one abstention was Councilwoman (Darlene) Harris. Her reason is that she felt it was in violation of state law governing the city of Pittsburgh. Our association agreed with her.

"From what we were told, they passed the bill the day they recessed for the summer. Their intention was to pass the bill before they went their summer recess.”

Those who opposed the bill received a small victory on Oct. 22, when Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph James signed an order staying “implementation, application and enforcement” of the new Pittsburgh sick leave ordinance for 60 days. The ordinance’s new effective date will be March 10 instead of Jan. 11.

Bova opposed the ordinance because she says it proposes costly challenges to restaurants in how they manage their business and not because they want to hurt their employees.

“It’s interesting right now. The issue right now is the fact that …to implement something like this, you are essentially rewriting your employee manual and you’re rewriting your payroll system to be in compliance,” she said.

“So there are small businesses that are going to have to put out a lot of money for this, which is one of the reasons why they have also joined us in the suit. But there are advocacy groups who are picketing and attacking restaurants about this basically saying that restaurants don’t care about their employees. And that is not the case at all.

"If Pittsburg passed a law that was legal, we would follow it, whether we liked it or not. But they passed a law that was against the law. It’s frustrating that there are these advocacy groups who are attacking the industry for the wrong reason.”

Restaurant businesses operate differently than other businesses, according to Bova - they require a different set of considerations.

“In the restaurant industry, especially with laws like this [sick leave ordinance], there is no protection for the restaurant. So if you call out 20 minutes before your shift and you don’t show up to work, that affects the everyday running of the restaurant," she said.

"The problem with these types of laws is that they are rewriting an employee manual without taking into consideration that a restaurant with 10 employees is inherently different than a corporation with 500.”

Bova argued that her association doesn’t oppose laws that improve working conditions for restaurant employees. What it desires is to take this discussion to the state level, from which many employee laws originate.

“For us, it just comes down to the fact that Pittsburgh does not have the legal authority to pass this law. We think that conversation should be held at the state level. That’s where we discuss minimum wage. That’s where we discuss unemployment compensation," she said.

"So for us, it is not the role of local government to be doing that, especially in the city of Pittsburgh. We like to have this conversation on the state level and make sure it’s a statewide conversation to every business on the same playing field."

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