Well. How did that happen?
Aftter three years and two vetoes of paid sick leave bills, suddenly Mayor Nutter is on board with the idea: On Thursday, he appointed a task force to report back in December. Which, given his history on the topic and the fact that a lot of work has been done already, in the two previous attempts, to make it acceptable to business — the first bill underwent a reported 19 changes — you’d almost expect it’s a delaying action. Let’s not be cynical; let’s give the mayor the benefit of the doubt.
Nutter said he's simply better educated now. (Which might be irritating to Councilman Bill Greenlee, who felt after the first veto that he never really got to make the case for paid sick leave to the mayor. "There was a lot of time and effort put into this," Greenlee said at the time, "so I don't feel like having a conversation would have been out of line.")
OK, ok, so what changed. How about this? The rest of the urban political landscape.
In the last few years, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, and Portland all passed paid sick leave policies, as did smaller nearby cities like Jersey City and Newark.
But preliminary research shows the laws have little, if any, downside for profits. And many small businesses say they don’t find complying with the laws a burden. Many already gave employees paid sick time before the laws were passed. And having paid sick time makes employees happy.
In short, Michael Nutter was getting left behind. He risked being one of the few urban Democratic leaders of his generation to fail to pass a sick leave bill in his city — and probably the only one to actively oppose it. It's a tag that might've stuck with him during what we can expect to be a long post-mayoral career.
What happens next?
Given that the bill passed through council with large majorities both times, passage of a sick leave bill would seem inevitable. Its most formidable Philadelphia opponent, in fact, might be the old statements of Michael Nutter. It would be fun to see him reconcile these comments with his new stance, but the guess here is that he can't really plausibly try.
Here, then, are Michael Nutter's five strongest statements against mandatory paid sick leave legislation:
- “The paid sick leave bill, in our opinion, would put thousands of jobs at risk and discourage businesses from coming to the city of Philadelphia," 2013 Michael Nutter told CBS Philly. “This type of legislation that we’re talking about here is truly better suited at either the commonwealth level, so that it has a statewide reach, or even at a national level.”
- “The burden businesses would face in meeting the requirements of this bill would deter job creation and decrease the competitiveness of our city," 2013 Michael Nutter said in a letter to City Council.
- “I care a great deal about paid sick leave, but I care even more about people getting paid. People need jobs and that’s our number one priority,” Nutter explained in 2011. “The paid sick leave bill, in our opinion, would put thousands of jobs at risk and discourage businesses from coming to the city of Philadelphia.”
- "Mandating employers to provide sick leave benefits to employees raises the cost of labor for businesses that do not already provide such benefits. Moreover, the bill imposes considerable administrative burdens on businesses, particularly small businesses that do not have sophisticated time-keeping systems in place," Nutter wrote that same year.
- “Paid sick leave is a complicated policy question that profoundly impacts employees and employers,” said Nutter. “The Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave, which is composed of distinguished professionals in their respective fields, will present my office and city Council with a comprehensive report that evaluates, analyzes and provides recommendations regarding paid sick leave in Philadelphia and their potential impact on employers and employees. It is critical that we thoroughly evaluate this issue in order to continue to strengthen our business climate while ensuring the health and well-being of employees.”
Actually that last quote is from Thursday! A bit underwhelming, no? Mayor Nutter may be getting out of the way of paid sick leave legislation — it may, astonishingly , even become part of his legacy in this town. But even now, he doesn't sound like much of a cheerleader for the concept. That's OK. As long as the veto is back in his pocket, he doesn't need to be.
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