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

Pittsburgh Councilwoman Darlene Harris is afraid the ordinance violates Pennsylvania law forbidding local governments from imposing “duties, responsibilities, or requirements upon businesses.”

“If this is successfully challenged in court,” Harris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “it’s going to be a costly mistake that the taxpayers will have to fund.”

Councilman Daniel Lavelle is “highly concerned,” the Post-Gazette reported, that the ordinance will hurt the growth of small businesses in Pittsburgh.

This could all be for naught. State legislation has been proposed to block the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia sick-day ordinances.

O’Connor admitted that if his opponents are successful, they could make this debate moot. But he said this is, at the very least, is a good conversation to have.

“Anybody can challenge; it is their legal right to do so. Our job is to do the best for all of the people of Pittsburgh, the people who live and work in the city of Pittsburgh,” he said. “We truly believed, the City Council of Pittsburgh, that this was the right thing to do at the right time.”

If O’Connor is willing to use a stick to bring Pittsburgh businesses into line with his thinking on the issue of granting their employees sick days, he is also willing to use the carrot of free advertising to incentivize them to raise their minimum wage.

Pittsburgh businesses that agree to bump their minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 can now get their logos and promotions emblazoned on bus shelters and other “city assets.”

O’Connor said they talked to business owners in Pittsburgh about this idea, especially small-business owners just like they did with the sick-day legislation.

It took about 90 days for the Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office to write the bill. Eight businesses signed up initially and agreed to raise their minimum wage in exchange for free publicity.

O’Connor said city officials are talking to the eight business owners now about which bus shelters should be used for their promotions.

Pittsburgh City Council is on recess until the fall. O’Connor is hoping successful promotions for one or two of the businesses that have signed up will attract others to the $10.10 movement.

As was the case with his sick-day ordinance, O’Connor admits he is not breaking totally new ground with this move to bump up wages in Pittsburgh. More than a few cities either have, or are considering, ordinances that would mandate a minimum wage of $15.

In fact, Pennsylvania Sen. Daylin Leach (D) wants everyone in the Quaker State to earn at least $15 an hour.

“An economy that forces full-time workers to toil in poverty is clearly in need of repair. While corporations shower their executives with extravagant bonuses, lavish benefits and golden parachutes, they force their own employees to supplement meager wages with government assistance programs, all at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Leach. “It’s time for employers to pay their fair share and for workers to get a fair shake.”

O’Connor doesn’t disagree with the sentiment, but points out his idea followed meetings with business owners, especially small-business owners.

He said it would accomplish basically the same thing, admittedly with a $5 an hour difference, but it would still raise wages.

“It’s a different twist,” admitted O’Connor.

But what’s most important, in his opinion, is that “we’re attracting people to the city of Pittsburgh because of this (minimum wage) and the sick-day ordinances, as well as sending a message to the state and federal government that this is a movement they should start talking about.”