Pittsburgh Uses Stick and Carrot to Get Mandatory Sick Leave and Higher Minimum Wage

Pittsburgh skyline during the day

--Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor is one of the local politicians in America’s city halls who are increasingly going where their national counterparts fear to tread.

O’Connor successfully sponsored an ordinance to force businesses in Pittsburgh to give their workers sick days, and another bill to encourage those same business owners to bump up the minimum wage to $10.10 on their own.

His sick-day ordinance, which was approved Aug. 3, allows people who work at businesses with at least 15 employees to bank one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours of sick leave.

People who work at smaller businesses could accrue up to 24 hours of sick leave the same way.

Celebrating his victory on the sick-day legislation, O’Connor wrote on his Facebook page, “With this ordinance, Pittsburgh workers will no longer have to choose between recovering from being sick and missing a day's pay.”

O’Connor is the first to admit his mandatory sick-day ordinance was not the first in the nation. Actually, it’s more like the 20th in the U.S. and the second in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia did it first.

O’Connor believes it is as important to look at where sick-day legislation is coming from as it is to examine the proposals themselves.

“Most of the discussions on how we change not only the state but the nation come from local governments,” he told PJM. “We want to be a leader and that is why we took a stand on this.”

O’Connor said he also took advantage of lessons learned by others who had gone before him with mandatory sick-day proposals.

Before proposing the idea, O’Connor said he spoke with his peers in other communities that had passed similar proposals. He not only talked to people like him, who were in favor of the idea of municipally mandated sick days, but also those who initially opposed the idea.

O’Connor said many of those who spoke out against mandatory sick leave recanted a year later, saying they found it didn’t have the negative impact they had feared and it actually brought positive attention to their cities.

The latter is already happening in O’Connor’s hometown.

“We are getting calls from people who were thinking of leaving Pittsburgh, but who now say this is enticing them to stay,” he said.

This is not to say that everyone in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or Pennsylvania agrees with O’Connor and the idea of mandatory sick days.