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.