By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Concerned community members came together virtually July 20, to give testimony in support of legislation that would provide paid sick leave to most workers in Allegheny County. The Zoom meeting included workers from across the service industry, both with and without sick leave of their own, giving their thoughts on why paid sick leave is important.
Allegheny County Council is currently considering legislation that would provide three to five paid sick days for full time employees working in the county. One of the sponsors of that bill, county councilor Bethany Hallam, attended the Zoom meeting and personally responded to each person’s testimony.
Hallam argues that the county bill, based very closely off sick leave legislation passed by the city of Pittsburgh, does not go far enough, and is recommending amendments to the bill to address these concerns.
“The problem is the city’s paid sick leave legislation isn’t great. It’s better than the nothing we had before, but it’s not the ideal situation,” said Hallam.
The amendments Hallam proposed to the legislation include paid safe days, allowing victims of abuse time off to find safety for themselves and their loved ones, as well as front-loading two weeks of paid sick leave to provide relief for those impacted by COVID-19.
Following Hallam’s remarks, people came forward to give testimony as to why they support the paid sick leave bill. A UPMC nurse named Latoi, who also helped lead the meeting, said she supports the bill because, as a Black woman, she knows how COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted her community. She specifically mentions that black people are more likely to be essential workers, and thus more likely to be exposed to the virus.
“26 percent of food delivery drivers are black, 70 percent of postal workers are black, 31 percent of home care staff are black, yet 12 percent of the workforce is black,” said Latoi. “They make the choice to stay at home and not get paid, or go to work and be exposed.”
More testimony came from Stephanie, a worker at Giant Eagle, who wants to ensure food service workers like her can stay home if they feel unwell, to avoid sickening customers.
“I work in the prepared foods department, frying chicken,” she said. “I don’t think the public wants us to be sick while preparing your food.”
Some of the most powerful testimony came in support of paid safe days from a woman named Jamaica. She moved from New York City to Pittsburgh to be closer to her then-boyfriend, taking a job in the area as a financial planner. Soon after moving in together, she realized the relationship was becoming abusive, and asked her job for a day off in order to escape to a safe living situation.
“The morning I returned to work, I was immediately fired,” she said. “I knew just as quickly I wouldn’t be able to leave. I didn’t have an income, I wasn’t eligible for unemployment, and I hadn’t been in control of my finances for longer than I’d been aware. I couldn’t afford anywhere to go.”
Because she could not take time off work, Jamaica was trapped in an abusive relationship. Though she eventually escaped, she continues to deal with the repercussions on her career and mental health.
This hearing comes as protests occur nationwide as part of the “Strike For Black Workers.” Earlier that day, workers marched through Oakland demanding workplace reforms, including paid sick leave.