The Paid Sick Leave Bill Exposes Republican Hypocrisy

The Pennsylvania GOP is for local control and federalism. Except when it comes to Philadelphia.

State Capitol in Harrisburg

Pennsylvania’s leaders may have fled the state over the weekend in order to enjoy a little time away from the riff-raff — that is, uh, you and me — but PoliticsPA reports that somebody in New York was getting the back of beleaguered workers back home:

A handful of servers at the dinner (served in the unionized Waldorf Astoria hotel) wore stickers during the Saturday event to show their opposition to a bill working its way through the state House. The bill, which will be taken up by the House this week, would block local municipalities (i.e. Philadelphia) from enacting paid sick days legislation.

That bill? House Bill 1807, which was given initial House approval this fall, then tabled — and then, last week, apparently untabled. If passed it would end several years of attempts in the Philadelphia City Council to require restaurants to provide paid sick leave to servers who have the sniffles or worse. So far, Mayor Nutter has managed to turn back both attempts at requiring the benefit.

We can discuss the benefits of a paid sick leave requirement some other time — assuming Harrisburg lets us. Instead, it’s useful to look at HB 1807 and point out its deeper meaning: That there are few principles the Republican Party in Pennsylvania holds more dear than screwing over Philadelphia voters.

Here are a couple of supposed core tenets of conservatism the Pennsylvania GOP would violate by passing the bill.

• Local control is the best control. Despite their often-libertarian rhetoric, conservatives aren’t against government per se — but, supposedly, they’re against big government, government that’s far away from the people. That’s why, at the national level, Republicans often try to defend state prerogatives — and at the state level, the party often tries to empower local politicians against state intrusions.

Except, you know, when they don’t.

There’s no real principled reason why state officials should suddenly decide Philadelphia doesn’t have the power to require local employers meet certain standards — the city, after all, has a billion requirements of businesses that it enforces through L&I. You can argue that’s not great, but it does suggest Harrisburg Republicans are intervening this time … because they can, not because their principles require them to.

Federalism is advantageous because it lets state and local governments experiment. The idea is that federal, state and local governments have different spheres of authority, in part, so they can experiment and try different approaches to governing. In the 21st century, though, “federalism” is just another name for “Republicans grabbing at the state level what they can’t accomplish elsewhere.”

Far from being a Pennsylvania-only effort, it appears that House Bill 1807 is part of a broader effort led by the pro-Republican American Legislative Exchange Council to pass a series of state laws prohibiting paid sick leave around the country. It’s a bill that would never pass the Congress — where Democrats control the Senate: ALEC’s specialty, in essence, is passing national-effects policies at the state level, belying the supposed GOP love of Federalism.

But the bill does leave one core Republican principle intact:

• Whatever big business wants, big business gets: There are principled conservatives who favor a free market system of real competition and who eschew the influence of big corporations on government. They work for think tanks and magazines. With the occasional exception of Rand Paul and his dad, actual Republicans in government go to work for big businesses as often as they can. The GOP has spent five years trying to get people disgusted with the supposed “crony capitalism” of the Obama Administration — the criticism hasn’t really taken, because Republicans have zero credibility on that kind of issue.

There are reasons to reject a paid sick-leave bill: It might burden smaller business owners. There are also reasons to pass one: So waiters don’t end up sneezing viruses into your otherwise-delicious short-rib entreé.

It’s a debate we started among ourselves in Philadelphia. There was no reason for Harrisburg to poke its business into ours. At least it helped us see, again, the Pennsylvania GOP for what it really is.

 Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • GE

    A better title for this article would have been: “Why I Still Don’t like the GOP”

    • Joel Mathis

      I think I’m pretty clear about my biases, GE, but: In this piece I’m explaining how Republicans are contravening their own putative principles. Am I wrong?

      • KAB

        You are definitely not wrong, and I thank you for pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in Republican support for this local meddling, and for correctly noting that ALEC (and the Koch brothers who are the money and so-called brains behind ALEC) is pressing this kind of legislation in many states. I would just add that the paid sick days legislation proposed in Philadelphia would not just cover restaurant workers but employees without any paid leave in all places of employment with more than five workers. It is probably true, however, that of those who would be covered, restaurant workers have the biggest impact on the public’s health, along with child care workers, and service workers for the elderly and the sick who also frequently lack this coverage.

        • Thomas Peace

          you speak as if the spread of common diseases would cease. it wouldn’t. plenty of people who do have sick leave don’t use it or return to work when they feel better but are still contagious. also, you are still contagious before feeling ill enough too call off.

          one thing is for certain, under mandated sick pay, many smaller businesses would adjust by either laying workers off or reducing their pay. that’s just economics.

          • fred675

            What nonsense. A few paid sick days wouldn’t bankrupt anybody. Just another excuse to screw poor people. I am sure corporate execs and the like all have sick days; why not the workers? And God forbid a union — you know, a group of working people fighting for better conditions — get any benefit. Perish the thought. What really amazes me is how the servants of the the plutocrats, such as Thomas Peace and enuf, have managed to turn working people against each other by demonizing anybody that earns decent pay with benefits and suggesting all workers be torn down to Walmart-level slaves and unions wiped out. What we should be doing is working to lift everybody to the level of good pay and benefits, not destroying those who reach that level without being born on third base.

          • Thomas Peace

            Who is “poor”? By what definition do you define ‘poor’? I guarantee you friend, that i have experienced greater poverty in life than you have. Care to take a hit?

          • KAB

            Nonsense indeed. First, I did not in any way imply that disease would be wiped out by enacting paid sick days legislation. Obviously, there are many more factors at work when it comes to spreading, or controlling the spread of illness. But the fact remains that those who work in service and caring professions are in situations where illness is easily spread to many people, and they are among the least likely to have paid sick days. I’m not just making this up – there’s plenty of data, including study results issued by the CDC that shows, for instance, that 40% of norovirus (stomach flu) is attributed to sick food service workers spreading the illness.
            Your economics are also wrong, though they are the standard, boilerplate, predictable, tired, and unproven talking points of the Chambers of Commerce. When you actually look at the data in cities where paid sick days have been law for years, there is no evidence whatsoever that the enactment has led to reduced employment or reduced pay. Quite the contrary, in fact. First of all, the benefits are modest and wouldn’t break any business that wasn’t already poised for collapse. Second, food service workers don’t even make minimum wage most places, so the benefit costs the employer little. But it still provides some economic security, as well as job security, for the workforce, plus protection for the public. Finally, many, many businesses have testified how providing paid sick days has improved their business. It means they have a more stable workforce, less turnover, less training costs. They have a more motivated workforce, since the workers are loyal and grateful to an employer who treats them like they are actually human beings with normal needs and demands on them outside the workplace. And when illness does strike, it affects less of the workforce if those who are sick get to stay home and care for themselves. People who run day care centers and nursery schools talk about how parents are also grateful because illness is less likely to be spread to their children and brought home. And interestingly, we’ve found that it is smaller, lower end restaurants who typically provide sick days, and they swear it has had no negative impact on business.
            And then there’s Fred675’s points, about how it is the humane, decent thing to provide fundamental benefits for workers (which, by the way, are enjoyed by workers in the rest of the industrialized world. They think we’re barbarians in this regard.) The lack of basic benefits like this is one of the many ways the extreme economic inequality we have in this country is demonstrated. People who lose pay when they stay home when they’re sick, or their child is sick, have less money to put back in the economy. And as economic studies show, low wage workers spend everything just to stay afloat; they’re not hoarding savings.
            Businesses need customers and they need workers to serve those customers’ needs. They can’t just lay off workers and expect to sustain their business – another idle threat that makes no sense when scrutinized.
            And Fred, I agree with all your points about unions, living wages, dignity on the job as well. It all goes together.

          • Thomas Peace

            Really long post that doesn’t really say very much, and has zero facts to support it. Let’s look…

            “Your economics are also wrong” – Really? How so?

            If you own a small painting business with 4 employees, and want to expand to six, under your proposal, a business owner is now faced with a ‘tax’ of paying workers to not be productive. How might that effect the bottom line?

          • Thomas Peace

            ” When you actually look at the data in cities where paid sick days have been law for years, there is no evidence whatsoever that the enactment has led to reduced employment or reduced pay. Quite the contrary”- Is that right? Please provide the “Quite the contrary” part. I’m all ears…

          • Zach

            Who argues the spread of diseases would cease? All it would mean is that I wouldn’t get sick because Mr. Thomas came in with the flu – which would mean I would be less productive, which is bad for my company.

          • Thomas Peace

            “Who argues the spread of diseases would cease? All it would mean is that I wouldn’t get sick…” – You just did. And you argue an unknowable. No one knows where or how they catch they will catch flu. Prevention is mainly washing hands and avoiding hand-to-face contact

            Since Mr Thomas (the motivated, self-starting table waiter) would still come in, while feeling ill on a Saturday night, (best night for tips), sick time that is paid out at an hourly salary rate (which KAB argues isn’t much) will compel me to stay home?

            I don’t think so. You still get sick

      • Thomas Peace

        sorry, but you are quite incorrect. it is not hypocritical for a republican legislature to outlaw the practice of government forcing businesses to provide sick pay. it is actually the essence of free market conservatism.

        You mentioned these were unionized hotel workers sporting these stickers, so that tells me that their union is behind this movement. It’s a good way to crush smaller, independent hotels (who’s workers are never unionized) and increase union $membership$. nevermind the fact that the former independent hotel workers will now be mostly unemployed, the unions really care about the little guy.

  • Enuf already

    How outrageously biased. You would have better served yourself, your profession and the people were you to have reported this across the board, as we all know it exists.
    We need to get rid of on all sides in all departments:
    Theft & Fraud in all areas
    Perks that are outrageous
    Carrying over year to year vacation, sick leave etc. as we’ve found its not sustainable and costs the taxpayers (even those doing this) millions
    “Seminars, Conferences” which are paid vacations
    Pensions as we’ve found its not sustantainable. The taxpayer is not only paying for the current job, but the last two in the job and the next one pending.
    Government employees including all elected officials need to be on the same retirement and healthecare system as the people……than they’ll care about the decisions they make, as it will affect them.
    This serves no purpose but to keep people dumb

    • KobraKai7474

      A couple of points bear mentioning:
      1. Saying you are against “waste”, “overspending”, “mismanagement”, “outrageous perks”, etc., etc. is nothing more than a platitude. NOBODY, not the most liberal progressive or the most hardcore conservative, is in favor of those things. If you want to point out ACTUAL places where our government is doing those things (personally, I would like to see the military cut back on an aircraft carrier or three, but that’s just me), have at it. At least among the average tax payer, you will find a more willing audience than you think.
      2. I am not saying banning carrying over vacations and sick time is a bad thing, but there WILL be consequences to such a move. For better or worse, vacation and sick time are a benefit that are part of an employee’s compensation. If they are part of an employee’s benefit package and if they can’t be carried over, then, you can rest assured that every employee WILL use 100% of their leave time each year. Whether you allow carry over or not, the bottom line is that each employee is going to get paid for a certain number of days of sitting at home (or on vacation) and doing nothing during the course of their career. The only question is whether it is spread equally over each year or bunched together at the end.
      3. Pensions are completely sustainable. HOWEVER, they require employers (whether government or business) to properly fund them EACH and EVERY year. Back in the 90s, the stock market was growing so fast that too many governments and too many companies got in the habit of not putting money into their pension funds because stock market gains were large enough to take up the slack. Once the markets came back to earth, nobody wanted to go back to fully funding them again, and that is why so many government entitites and companies are struggling with their pensions. That is a failure on the part of the employer NOT a failure of the concept of a pension.
      4. Regarding “seminars” and “conferences”, I don’t know what you do for a living, but, if it is a field that requires licensing (that would include doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, hair stylists, and a host of others), each state has passed laws REQUIRING that a license holder complete a certain amount of continuing education each year in order to maintain their license. In other words, in order to keep your job, you MUST attend those “seminars” and “conferences” every year. Now, if you want to attack that problem at the source and get rid of the silly continuing education requirements (which were undoubtedly created at the behest of lobbyists for the groups profitting from the “seminars” and “conferences”), then I am with you 100%.

  • Thomas Peace

    This isn’t for “Big Business”. Actually against. Large businesses already provide paid sick leave. They can afford to. HB1807 prevents localities from MANDATING that businesses provide paid sick leave. Many smaller businesses would struggle under such a mandate and possibly fail, which would reduce competition for the Large ones…

    Maybe the writer of this piece believes that those pushing this agenda really care about the worker who doesn’t get sick pay. But it makes more sense when you view it as an underhanded attempt to damage the competition while disguising it as “we care about the little guy”