Should Your Waiter Get Paid Sick Time?

Mayor Nutter just vetoed the bill that would have required local businesses to provide sick days to employees, including many waiters and cooks in your favorite restaurants. This has surely gladdened the hearts of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied vociferously against City Council’s just-squeaked-by vote for passage earlier this month, as well as one prominent restaurateur I spoke to on the brink of the veto announcement.

Prominent Restaurateur says his own business has been “stagnant” since the recession began, and mentioned that he’s counted 24 local eateries that have shuttered since May. The bill, he said, essentially would have given employees “a week of paid vacation”—too much to expect teetering business owners to absorb.

“It’s not a big surprise,” says Katherine A. Black, president of the Philadelphia Coalition of Labor Union Women, of Nutter’s veto. “He just brought up all the talking points the Chamber of Commerce always rolls out when there’s any threat of workers’ rights advancing.”

The chamber sang the same song, she noted, when the smoking ban was passed, but the threatened dire consequences never materialized: “And they never do.” Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, she notes, have passed similar legislation without torpedoing business.

And by not offering sick days, that prominent restaurant is serving you food that sick employees may have handled, coughed over and sneezed on. Prominent Restaurateur takes issue with that. “These aren’t the most loyal employees,” he says of his industry’s workers. “They just call out sick” when they’re not feeling well.

Black says she’ll continue to push for the 12 votes needed to override the veto—and if that fails, to have the bill reintroduced when a new City Council takes office in January.

Sandy Hingston is a Senior Editor at Philadelphia magazine, where she wrote about the death of handwriting and boundary-breaking tennis star Billie Jean King in the July issue.