Appeals court upholds illegality of City of Pittsburgh paid sick leave ordinance

By Mike Helenthal | May 25, 2017

HARRISBURG — The City of Pittsburgh has lost its appeal of a 2015 verdict striking down a city ordinance requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to employees.

An Allegheny County judge in January 2016 had originally struck down the Pittsburgh City Council’s attempt to mandate paid sick time, with the city arguing it was within its home rule authority to do so under the Disease Prevention and Control Law. The Commonwealth Court affirmed on May 17.

The city regulation, supported by the local Service Employees International Union, would have required employers to offer one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours that an employee worked.

The Commonwealth Court  upheld the lower court’s decision siding with the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose attorneys had argued that the city was outside its legal authority to enact the ordinance. 

The city again tried to invoke its home rule powers, but the majority opinion, written by Judge Michael H. Wojcik, said the city’s arguments “are followed by little analysis” and were not able to counter state statutory limits also written into the Home Rule Charter. 

The majority opinion also said the city had taken statements in the state Disease Prevention and Control Law out of context.

The panel pointed to a 1984 court opinion in Smaller Manufacturers Council v. Council of City of Pittsburgh that said a city’s powers to regulate a business were only allowed “as expressly provided by the acts of the General Assembly which are applicable in every part of the Commonwealth or which are applicable to all municipalities or to a class or classes of municipalities.”

The appeals panel also cited a 2009 state Supreme Court decision that said the city had overstepped its authority in an ordinance aimed to protect displaced contract workers.

“We recognize that paid sick leave for employees is a laudable goal," Wojcik wrote in affirming the original decision striking down the ordinance. 

“The power to achieve that goal rests with our General Assembly, however, through statewide legislation addressing paid sick leave or, alternatively, through legislation vesting authority to do so in local municipalities.”  

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Organizations in this Story

City of Pittsburgh Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association Pennsylvania Supreme Court Pittsburgh City Council SEIU

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