Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Philadelphia Can Protect Pregnant Workers from Discrimination

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

On October 3, 2013, Philadelphia City Councilmember Greenlee, Councilmember Reynolds Brown, and Councilmember Bass introduced legislation that, if passed, will protect pregnant women who work in Philadelphia from discrimination in the workplace. The legislation requires employers to provide women with reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

It often comes as a surprise to women that, under our current laws, their employers often do not have to grant their requests for minor job modifications, such as requests to sit in a chair at work or to have help lifting heavy boxes, which some women need as their pregnancies progress. When an employer denies these requests, the women who need these accommodations are (1) forced to continue working under conditions that place their health and the health of their pregnancies at risk, (2) forced to exhaust any leave that might be available to them (often leaving none for after the birth of the baby), and/or (3) forced to leave their job.

As a result, pregnant women and their families find themselves without income and without health insurance (if employer provided). Women who are pushed out of the workforce due to pregnancy lose pay in the short-term and are at risk for diminished income throughout their working lives.

Existing anti-discrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and state laws like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, prevent employers from treating pregnant women differently from non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. The 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, may also provide protection for some pregnant women.

However, there are too many gaps in these laws. For example, courts have ruled that the PDA does not offer a pregnant employee legal protections unless she can identify a non-pregnant employee who works in the same role, has virtually the same limitations, and who received better treatment from the employer.  Many pregnant employees are unable to identify such a person, often because they do not know what kinds of accommodations their employers have granted to other employees or what needs those other employees have. Furthermore, some courts have allowed employers to refuse to accommodate pregnant employees even when they accommodate non-pregnant employees with similar limitations, if the source of that incapacity is work-related.

While some states and localities, most recently New York City, have laws that fill these gaps, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia do not.  For women who work in Philadelphia, the City Council bill would ensure that pregnant women who are able to work with reasonable accommodations can keep their jobs. Specifically, the bill would amend the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance to make it unlawful for an employer to:

Refuse to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, provided (i) the employee requests such accommodations and (ii) such accommodations will not cause an undue hardship to the employer.

This is a familiar framework for employers and courts because it is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act. If passed, this law would help pregnant women stay employed, promoting the health and well-being of women and their families, while imposing only a minimal and temporary burden on employers.

The Women’s Law Project hears from women across the Commonwealth, including in Philadelphia, who would benefit from a law that prohibits employers from denying reasonable requests for accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition:*

  • Makayla, an employee at a garden center, needed help lifting heavy plants while pregnant. Her employer refused her request, and she had no choice but to leave her job.
  • Tina, a health aid at a nursing home, needed help lifting a resident from the scooter to the bed while pregnant. Her employer denied her request and forced her to exhaust her Family Medical Leave (which is up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave available to some employees of some employers) before the birth of her baby. Tina lost her job.
  • Jessica, a pharmacist’s assistant, needed to sit down occasionally at her workplace while pregnant. Chairs were available for customers, but the pharmacy did not permit the staff to use them. Jessica lost her job.

Most of the women who have contacted the Women’s Law Project with these experiences are having healthy pregnancies, but need minor accommodations in the workplace as their pregnancies progress. In many cases, they are the primary or sole breadwinner for their families, and so the loss of their jobs places their families at great risk of poverty.

Philadelphia should do more to help these families, and passing Bill No. 130687 is an important step.

If you live in Philadelphia, please contact your councilmember and tell them why this issue matters to you.

*Identifying information has been removed to protect confidentiality.

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Filed under Gender Discrimination, Philadelphia City Council, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant workers fairness, Sex Discrimination, working women

Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Need Paid Leave

Carol E. Tracy, Executive Director, WLP

Victims of domestic and sexual violence need paid sick leavePromoting Healthy Families and Workplaces would require employers with six or more employees to provide up to seven paid days of leave for employees to use when they are sick, receive preventive care, address needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or take care of a family members.  This important legislation provides domestic and sexual violence victims the opportunity to take steps to protect themselves from further domestic violence without risking loss of employment.

The Women’s Law Project stands firmly in support of this legislation.  We have made great progress with the Nutter administration to improve the response of law enforcement to domestic and sexual  violence as well as to expand social and health services.  This bill is a significant component of what needs to be a multifaceted response to a complex problem.  With the enactment of this bill, Philadelphia will take the lead in helping Pennsylvania victims of abuse achieve economic and personal independence.

We know firsthand how important adoption of this bill is to victims of abuse.  Through both our telephone counseling service and policy initiatives, we hear from women who are unable to obtain protection orders or seek the assistance of other social services to help them address the abuse to which they are subjected because their jobs do not give them time off for such activities.  Unable to risk losing their ability to support their families, these individuals continue to live in fear and suffer abuse without legal protection or other support.  Those who take time off from work to address the domestic violence even though they lack leave time, risk loss of employment, destitution, and homelessness.

Except for the domestic abuse hotline and emergency services in Philadelphia, the courts and most social services operate on a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday schedule.  While someone faced with imminent danger may call 911 or file a petition for an Emergency Protection From Abuse order at any time, anyone seeking a final order of protection or relief from the criminal justice system must ultimately appear in court during the work week, typically for many hours, and often on a repeated basis.  Women seeking such orders have told us they simply could not take more time off from work to return to court again.  If the plaintiff does not appear for a hearing, the court dismisses the petition and no relief is granted. This bill, if adopted, will enable victims of abuse to seek legal and other protection.

We anticipate that the business community may assert concerns about misuse or overuse of the leave provided by this legislation.  This concern has been raised in other venues in which we have worked to confront discrimination against and achieve accommodation for battered women: insurance discrimination and waivers of welfare work requirements.  We have seen no abuse in those arenas.  In conversations with state insurance departments around the country, we have been assured that the number of individuals seeking relief under statutes prohibiting insurance discrimination against battered individuals has been extremely low.  In our work in Pennsylvania on implementation of the Family Violence Option, which allows domestic violence victims to be excused from work requirements if domestic violence impedes their ability to comply, we have also seen no abuse.  Despite estimates that domestic violence victims make up 40-60% of the TANF population, the number of TANF recipients in Pennsylvania seeking to be excused from work requirements is very small, only approximately 2 % or less of the TANF adult population statewide.  Philadelphia’s numbers are even lower, with the percentage of the city’s welfare population seeking work waivers consistently below 1% (Department of Public Welfare, unpublished data April -August, 2007).  Just as fears of false allegations of domestic violence have not been realized in these situations, we do not anticipate false claims in this one.

The reasons are the same:  battered women want to work and need to work to support themselves and their families.  In addition, victims of domestic violence do not easily disclose domestic violence to anyone, let alone their employer: shame and fear of loss of benefits and employment are a strong deterrent to disclosure of domestic violence.  Because requesting domestic violence leave requires such a disclosure, we do not expect domestic violence victims to request leave unless it is absolutely necessary for them to be excused from work.

See more information at:  http://www.phillyearnedsickdays.com/

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Filed under Domestic violence, Earned Sick Leave, Economic Justice, Family Violence, Paid Leave, Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Council, Violence Against Women

Philadelphia Needs Earned Sick Leave

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

On Thursday, March 14th, Philadelphia City Council will vote on Councilmember Greenlee’s “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces” bill (pdf), which would require employers with six or more employees to provide up to seven paid days of leave for employees to use when they are sick, receive preventive care, address needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or take care of a family member. Currently, many workers do not have paid sick leave. When employees without paid leave get sick, they risk losing pay or their job for taking a day off to recover or to seek treatment; thus, many restaurant, healthcare, and childcare workers have no choice but to go to work sick.

Earned sick leave benefits everyone in Philadelphia:

  • Earned sick leave benefits employees by giving them the flexibility necessary to take care of their health and their families’ health. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has estimated that “access to paid sick days is associated with better self-reported health, a lower likelihood of delayed medical care, and less frequent visits to hospital emergency departments.”
  • Earned sick leave benefits the public by reducing the transmission of contagious illnesses like colds and the flu. As the Women’s Law Project discussed in its report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, a majority of workers in the restaurant industry have had no choice but to handle food while sick, thus exposing customers to viruses and bacteria, because workers lack access to paid sick leave.
  • Earned sick leave even benefits employers by increasing productivity of employees, increasing morale, and reducing turnover in the workplace. The IWPR projects that paid sick leave will save Philadelphia’s businesses half a million dollars per year. We know that paid sick leave is not “bad for business” based on the experience of other cities, like San Francisco, which, according to an IWPR report, enjoyed continued job growth after the implementation of San Francisco’s paid leave ordinance in 2007. The city also weathered the recession better than its surrounding counties.

Some Councilmembers are considering opposing the bill, which sends the message that Philadelphia and its businesses do not care about the health of its employees and the public. That message is bad for everyone, particularly during cold and flu season, when far too many Philadelphians risk exposure when they come into contact with sick employees at local businesses. Councilmember Greenlee’s bill is about protecting our health, and everyone who cares about the physical and financial health of Philadelphia’s working families should support it.

Call Philadelphia City Council today to show your support for this bill and/or send tweets in support of the bill to @BobbyHenon, @JimFKenney, @CouncilwomanBRB, @cmcbass, @CouncilOBrien.

To learn more about earned sick leave, see The Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces.

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Filed under Earned Sick Leave, Paid Leave, Philadelphia City Council

“It’s the Economy, Stupid” – Occupy Pennsylvania and Legislative Priorities

Like most Americans, Pennsylvanians want jobs, fair taxation, and smarter spending… but all they’re getting are ill-advised spending cuts, bickering across party lines and moral grandstanding about women’s healthcare. 

A few weeks ago, the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement for corporate accountability that attracted so much attention on Wall Street, came to Pennsylvania. Local Occupiers set up camp in Philadelphia in the first week of October, and in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on October 16th.

 These Occupations have sponsored a broad range of activities from civil disobedience in Philadelphia, to children’s story hours, community art projects and anti-police violence demonstrations in Pittsburgh, to a Halloween party and protest parade this past weekend in Harrisburg. Occupiers are notably politically and intellectually diverse, residing in a tent city where Marxists sleep next door to Ron Paul libertarians, who share donated food and resources with union leaders and die-hard Obama supporters.

In fact, they are so politically diverse that they’ve been widely mocked as disorganized and unable to reach consensus. Critics have publicly asked, “What are these Occupiers so angry about?” These charts speak to the varied interests of the demonstrations’ participants.

The Occupiers are a diverse group, and they don’t all want to end the Federal Reserve or elect the Green Party. But the demands and grievances they do share resonate with many Americans; according to a recent Associated Press poll, over one-third of Americans support the Occupy movement.

According to The Huffington Post:

The protesters cite the economic crisis as a key reason for their unhappiness. The unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent nationally. Many homeowners owe more than their homes are worth. Foreclosures are rampant. And many young people – the key demographic of the protesters – can’t find jobs or live on their own.

The most consistent key factor in all this anger – repeated twice in the above quotation – is unemployment. Jobs. People who had jobs lost them; people looking for jobs can’t find them; people who have jobs are dealing with cuts in their hours, pay, and benefits that make it harder to support themselves on those jobs. People in bad job situations can’t leave their jobs because they wouldn’t be able to find another source of income. All this job anxiety makes people’s lives uncertain, and that uncertainty is causing anger, frustration, and restlessness among American citizens.

You’d imagine that lawmaking officials in our state, wanting to get re-elected, would be scrambling to pass legislation that would create more job opportunities for the 8.2% of the Pennsylvania labor force that was reported out of work in September 2011.

This has not come to pass. In the past year, PA has slashed the budgets for public education (which gives people the work skills they need to get jobs), libraries (which enable people without home internet access to fill out online job applications), and public transportation (which gets people to and from their jobs). This is, of course, to say nothing of the people currently hired by schools, libraries, and bus and train companies who will be laid off as these cuts take effect. 

Pennsylvania’s current policies lay the groundwork for massive, long-term unemployment on a much larger scale than we’re seeing right now – and that’s just what the legislature is doing in its spare time!

In the first six months of 2011, Pennsylvania lawmakers spent a whopping one-third of their voting session days at the Capitol working to restrict access to safe, legal abortion at a time when and one in six children in the state lives in poverty.

Our lawmakers need to check their priorities soon, or Pennsylvania’s children – who are already suffering – will grow up with fewer job opportunities than their parents have right now. Although not everyone is rushing to Occupy the nearest city, most agree with the message that PA’s legislators could serve constituents better by making economic recovery a priority.

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Filed under Abortion Access, Democracy, Economic Justice, Employment, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reproductive Rights

In Remembrance: Illegal Abortion Kills

Tuesday, October 18th, Pittsburgh pro-choice advocates marched on the office of Senator Jane Orie, one of the PA Senate’s strongest supporters of the dangerous SB 732, which could put most of Pennsylvania’s abortion clinics out of existence by legislating compliance with unnecessary and expensive Ambulatory Surgical Facility (ASF) guidelines. Unlike the lively We’ve Had Enough rally in Harrisburg, the Pittsburgh protest was somber. Its aim was to remind Senator Orie how many women have perished from desperate measures taken when safe, sanely-regulated abortion was not accessible.

The National Organization for Women lists brief biographies for some of these women on their website.  Clara Bell Duval, a Pittsburgh native with five children, died in 1929 from self-abortion with a knitting needle. Geraldine Santoro, separated from her abusive husband and pregnant by another man, tried to perform the procedure in a hotel room with the father of her child, and bled to death. In 1977, soon after the passage of the Hyde Amendment which denied abortion coverage to women on Medicaid, Rosie Jiminez died from a botched illegal abortion, too poor to afford the procedure at a private clinic.

To this list we can now add Karnamaya Mongar, the 41-year-old Nepalese refugee with whose murder the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged. Mongar allegedly died from an overdose of anesthesia at the hands of an unlicensed employee at Gosnell’s unsafe, unsanitary, and poorly monitored “Women’s Medical Society.”

Dr. Gosnell  allegedly sold prescription drugs during the day and performed illegal abortions at night, primarily for clients who were poor, immigrants, and women of color. For over 16 years the Health Department ignored complaints about the facility, including a hand-delivered complaint from a doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The Health Department and other regulating agencies had cause to be concerned about Dr. Gosnell’s clinic, but they did not investigate repeated complaints from patients and other providers.

The problem with Dr. Gosnell’s clinic was not the lack of regulations, but the lack of enforcement of those regulations.  The Pennsylvania legislature, rather than improving inspection procedures and ensuring that consumer complaints are appropriately investigated and acted upon, is using Dr. Gosnell as an excuse to push for unnecessary and cumbersome regulations that could effectively close down most freestanding abortion clinics in Pennsylvania.

SB 732, Pennsylvania’s “answer” to Dr. Gosnell’s house of horrors, would require all health facilities that offer abortion care to comply with Ambulatory Surgical Facility regulations. These complicated and expensive regulations have the potential to shut down nearly every freestanding abortion clinic in the state of Pennsylvania at least temporarily, and only those with the resources to redesign their facilities in accordance with ASF regulations – such as quadrupling the size of their operating rooms for no added safety benefit, and installing unnecessary hospital-grade elevators capable of lifting the equivalent of a small car – would be able to reopen. Those surviving clinics would have to increase the cost of an abortion out of reach of many women.

Karnamaya Mongar didn’t die because the elevators in Gosnell’s clinic were too small. She died because the regulations already in place were ignored.  If the cost of a safe, legal abortion increases or the number of safe providers decreases as a result of SB 732, stories like Mongar’s will become a lot more common in our state. Making abortion harder to access for all women is, to paraphrase David Bowie, like fighting fire with gasoline. These regulations are a backdoor tactic to severely limit abortion care, a hypocritical and disingenuous response to the atrocities allegedly committed by Dr. Gosnell. 

The heartbreaking stories of Clara Duval, Geraldine Santoro, Rosie Jiminez and now Karnamaya Mongar send a message that ought to be loud and clear: when safe abortion care is made illegal, unaffordable, or too difficult to access, women who are desperate to end their pregnancies seek other options, as dangerous or unsavory as they might be because the alternative—remaining pregnant—is untenable.   Far too often, those women die. It is our responsibility to remember their lives as we continue to fight for fair, reasonable reproductive health care legislation. Learn more about SB 732 here.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Mayor Nutter Vetoes Earned Sick Time Bill

On June 28th, Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Bill. As we have reported before , the bill would have required businesses to allow their workers to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked—up to 7 days a year of earned sick time for businesses with 11 or more employees and up to 4 days of paid sick time per year for businesses with 10 or fewer employees.  “Mom and Pop” businesses with 5 or fewer employees would be exempt.

The mayor argued that the bill, if passed, would be bad for businesses in the city. He stated that he supports paid sick time in general, but thinks that a bill requiring it must be passed at the state or federal level to have the right effect. There are currently no federal requirements for paid sick leave.

Mayor Nutter’s veto of the bill revolved around the idea that, if it passed, businesses would suffer and therefore the city would also suffer as a result of a decreased number of jobs after businesses leave or downsize. These arguments are similar to those made by Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce. However, as we noted previously, the reasoning behind this logic is faulty. Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State- Abington, and Stephen Herzenberg, an economist with the Keystone Research Center, argued that in fact “paid sick days are good for business and the community, as well as for families” and that the arguments of the Chamber of Commerce and the Nutter administration are based on “inflated estimates.”

The next step in the effort to ensure that workers can stay home when they are ill or must take care of someone who is ill is to get the City Council to override Nutter’s veto. Marianna Bellesorte, Senior Policy Director at PathWays PA, an organization which is a member of the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, said that “the Coalition plans to work with City Council to do everything possible to make an override a reality…We will continue to fight for paid sick days until all Philadelphians have access to a minimum standard of time.” She said that the Coalition is “disappointed that the Mayor is ignoring the wishes of 71% of Philadelphians who support paid sick days, not to mention the 200,000 workers who need paid sick days in the city of Philadelphia.”

However, getting the Council to overturn the mayor’s veto “could be a daunting task.” The bill only passed the Council by a 9-8 margin and one of the “yea” votes was cast by “Councilman Bill Green, who opposed paid sick leave, but supported the bill in a deal to prevent the mayor’s soda tax from passing.” To override a bill’s veto, 12 votes in favor of the override are required. Luckily, advocates have the summer to get more support for the bill in the Council since it will not meet again until September 8th.

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Filed under Employment, Philadelphia, Philadelphia City Council

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to Celebrate LGBT Pride Month This Weekend

On Sunday June 12th Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will host their respective annual Pride parades and festivals. Philadelphia’s Pride Parade begins at 13th and Locust at noon, ending at Penn’s lLanding where the festival will last until 6 PM. Pittsburgh’s Pride Awareness March begins at noon on Sunday followed by PrideFest on Liberty Avenue where the festival will continue until 6pm, the end of a five-day celebration of LGBT Pride.

Performers at Philadelphia’s events include Aisha Tyler and Dawn Robinson. Patti LaBelle will be a featured artist in Pittsburgh, performing at the Saturday evening “Pride in the Streets” event. You can find more information on Philadelphia’s events here and on Pittsburgh’s here.

Pennsylvania’s celebrations are part of LGBT Pride month. As we have written  before,  June has been a time of LGBT pride and activism since the Stonewall Riots of 1969 when customers of a LGBT-friendly bar fought back against police who were raiding the establishment. However, it was not until 2000 that June was officially recognized as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” This year, President Obama declared June LGBT Pride Month, as he did in 2010.

During this time of celebration it is important to remember the gains that have been made towards equality for all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation and gender as well as the work that is still left to be done. Last year Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and recently Vermont ‘s governor signed into law a bill which “explicitly specifies that surgery is not required in order to obtain a new birth certificate,” a gain for the transgendered community. However, 20% of homeless youth are LGBT in an overall youth population that is only 10% LGBT and next year a proposed constitutional amendment will appear on Minnesota’s state ballot which would not only affirm the current ban on same-sex marriage but would prevent any future legalization.

Please support Pride events in your area and let us know about more LGBT victories and work that needs to be done to achieve equality in comments.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sexual orientation