WLP Files Brief Supporting the City of Pittsburgh & SEIU in Fight for Paid Sick Days

Photo via WESA.FM

The Women’s Law Project just filed an amici curiae, or friend-of-the-court brief, formally supporting the city of Pittsburgh and SEIU in asking the PA Supreme Court to allow the earned paid sick days ordinance to take effect.

Research backs up the common-sense assertion that access to paid sick days is likely to reduce the spread of illness—especially during widespread outbreaks of highly contagious illness.

Currently, deaths from influenza and pneumonia were responsible for 1 of every 10 deaths in the United States, and that’s likely to rise, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Currently, more than 4,000 Americans a week are dying from the flu and pneumonia.

This season, there have been 7,500 confirmed cases of influenza in Allegheny County alone.

Pittsburgh City Council passed an earned paid sick days ordinance back in 2015. However, paid sick days are not in effect because the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association sued the city of Pittsburgh to stop the policy.

Under the ordinance, employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked. Businesses with fewer than 15 workers could cap the amount of paid sick time at three days per year. Employees at larger businesses would be able to earn at least five paid sick days each year.

It’s ironic that the restaurant industry is the industry leading the fight against paid sick days in Pittsburgh.

A lack of paid sick days is especially dangerous to the public health when sick restaurant workers go to work, a situation that happens every single day in Pittsburgh and across the Commonwealth.

In a national survey of more than 4,300 restaurant workers, 88% of those surveyed reported not having paid sick leave, and 63% stated that they cooked and served food to customers while sick. In another survey, 12% of interviewed restaurant workers reported working while experiencing diarrhea or vomiting on two or more occasions in the previous year.

Almost half of those who worked while sick reported that they did so because they “can’t afford to lose pay.” In one study drawing on data from the CDC, where factors contributing to food contamination were reported, infectious food workers were implicated as the source of contamination in 70% of the cases.

Is this really want we want for Pittsburgh? For restaurant workers to be serving drinks and plates of food between bouts of diarrhea and vomiting?

WLP’s analysis concludes that Pittsburgh has ample authority to implement a public health policy such as a paid sick days ordinance.

Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association is not fighting paid sick days on public health grounds. Instead, they are arguing that Pittsburgh’s status as a second-class city means it can’t regulate paid sick days according to the Pennsylvania state constitution.

The Women’s Law Project just filed an amici curiae, or friend-of-the-court brief, formally supporting the city of Pittsburgh and SEIU in asking the PA Supreme Court to allow this critical law to take effect. The law is clear that Pittsburgh can implement this policy. The brief has been signed by 50 additional organizations.

“Pittsburgh has ample authority as a home rule municipality to enact a public health ordinance addressing disease prevention and control, such as the paid sick days ordinance,” says Susan J. Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project and author of the amici brief. “This measure is a common-sense health regulation that is proven to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. What could be more important during flu season?”

As the case continues to wind through the courts, 40% of private employees in Pittsburgh still do not have a single day of paid sick leave, forcing sick workers to choose between a paycheck for the day and risking spreading infectious disease.

Read our brief here.

For more information or to discuss this case with a WLP attorney, contact Tara Murtha at tmurtha@womenslawproject.org or 215-928-5766.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Philadelphians Deserve a Fair Workweek, Too

This is a guest post by WLP legal intern Shannon, student at Drexel Kline School of Law, JD Candidate 2019.

Finishing up my third year of college, I was already $75,000 in debt and I knew it will only get worse.

My mom was in her second bout of chemo, so my parents were no longer financially stable enough to help with college costs. Due to this, I had three food service industry jobs, but was unable keep those jobs because the hours conflicted with school.

My bosses gave me ultimatums: it was either the job or school. I picked school, hoping a college degree would give me financial stability. Three years later, I am in law school and even more in debt. My mom is in her fourth bout of chemo. I run back and forth between restaurant work and school trying to make ends meet.

I receive my work schedule only five days before the next workweek. My work hours range from 20-30 a week, with zero consistency. I am only making $10 an hour. I live paycheck-to-paycheck trying to pay all of my bills, straining to find some time for myself. Unfortunately, this is my norm.

It is also the average lifestyle for many underemployed, low-income service sector workers in Philadelphia. Nearly 20 percent of Philadelphia’s local economy is made up of service sector type businesses. These industries have the highest incidence of unpredictable scheduling and involuntary part-time employment.

The Philadelphia Fair Work Week Campaign, running this week, draws attention to this important issue, showing how unpredictable scheduling harms the health and wellbeing of Philadelphia’s workers and their families. The Campaign’s goal is to pass local legislation that will create a family-sustaining workweek for the city’s service sector workers.

Philadelphia’s workers and their families need predictable workweeks that their families can count on. They need the opportunity to work enough hours to make ends meet, healthy workweeks that are sustainable and do not include scattered morning-to-night, open-to-close, shifts, and they need flexibility in order to take care of themselves and their families.

Many cities, such as New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco, and the state of Oregon, have passed laws to reform the unpredictable and unstable nature of the service sector.

Now it is time for Philadelphia.

On January 25, 2018, Councilmembers Gym, Quiñones Sánchez, Squilla, Henon, Taubenberger, Green, and Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution that was subsequently adopted, to authorize the Committee on Children and Youth to conduct hearings on the impact of unpredictable and inadequate work hours on the wellbeing of families, examining the effect of unstable workweeks on children and caregivers.

These hearings are one step in the right direction for well-deserved and needed legislation to help service sector Philadelphians secure job stability. Based on a study by Professors Kristen Harknett and Daniel Schneider, a large majority of workers have expressed that they want to work more hours and have predictable work schedules. The study also found that most workers’ hourly wages fell well below the estimated living wage, meaning that these workers’ wages were not enough to meet basic needs.

Many workers are unable to supplement their income with a second job when the job that fails to provide them with a living wage also imposes unpredictable working hours. Most workers do not have control over when they receive their work schedule, the days they are scheduled to work, or times they are scheduled to work.

A majority of Philadelphians, like me, only receive their schedule within or less than one week prior to their next workweek. This unpredictability is unsustainable for anyone trying to raise a family or go to school, and hinders any possibility of a life/work balance.

It is time to act and pass legislation that will create more predictable schedules to improve the lives, health, and well-being of Philadelphians and their families.

The Fair Workweek Campaign is led by One Pennsylvania. To learn more and view upcoming events, check out One Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia Fair Workweek Campaign launch here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Fair Work Week | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rewire: PA Supreme Court Could Decide Whether Using Drugs During Pregnancy Is Child Abuse

Can a woman’s behavior while pregnant be considered child abuse under civil law?

That’s the fundamental question in a case co-counseled by attorneys at Women’s Law Project and Robert Lugg of Lugg & Lugg in Lock Haven.

As we recently told you, we have petitioned the state Supreme Court to take up the case because it has significant ramifications for both the rights of pregnant people and public health.

From a new must-read story published in Rewire:

The state’s Child Protective Services Law was enacted as a civil statute to prevent child abuse and protect children from further abuse. The law defines child abuse as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly … causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.” It primarily concerns requirements when it comes to reporting child abuse. The trial court ruled that the Pennsylvania law “does not provide for finding of abuse due to actions taken by an individual upon a fetus.”

But the appeals court disagreed, despite the fact that the child abuse statute was not intended to ensnare pregnant people.

“We cannot allow Pennsylvania to punish pregnancy in this manner,” says Professor David S. Cohen, a WLP Board Member who is co-counsel on the case (along with WLP Executive Director Carol Tracy). “If women can be found to be child abusers based on actions taken while pregnant, almost any activity could ultimately lead to such a finding, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, exercising too much, traveling to a foreign country, and so on.”

You can read our petition here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Criminalizing Pregnancy, Pregnancy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Report on Pennsylvania’s Community Conversations on Women’s Health

Throughout 2017, the Women’s Law Project worked with our partners in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health to organize and host 12 public conversations in 10 cities and towns across the Commonwealth, so we could do what too many Pennsylvania lawmakers will not: Listen to women.

The conversations focused on a wide range of issues affecting the health and economic well-being of Pennsylvania women and their families. Four of the dozen conversations focused exclusively on the circumstances and needs of Latinx Pennsylvanians, a rising segment of our population who disproportionately experience poverty, face multiple kinds of intersecting discrimination, and have to navigate additional obstacles to accessing healthcare, like the language barrier. (Latinx is a gender-inclusive term for Latinos and Latinas.)

“I want my voice heard. I want the issues important to me and other women to be a priority,” said Safronia Perry of Carlisle. “That’s why I participated in these community conversations, and that’s why other women did, too. We’re united in working together to protect our health care and strengthen our families, and we’re raising our voices to ensure we’re heard.”

We compiled our findings into the first report of its kind, “A Report on Pennsylvania’s Community Conversations on Women’s Health.” We unveiled the report at the state Capitol in January, at an event that featured participants in the conversations speaking directly to lawmakers and media. You can view video of the event here.

This weekend at the Keystone Progress Summit, we presented our findings and connected them with proposed legislative solutions. In partnership with Community Conversation organizer and participant Savannah Thorpe, WLP’s Tara Murtha and Audrey Ann Ross of AccessMatters, we highlighted the voices of women from across Pennsylvania who say they don’t feel represented by elected officials. They are angry that it is so difficult—and expensive—to access affordable, quality healthcare in Pennsylvania.

They are tired of being treated poorly in exam rooms, where they describe an atmosphere of stigma and discrimination. They are tired of lawmakers who tout “the dignity of work” and “family values” while refusing to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 to a livable wage, pass basic workplace protections for pregnant workers, or even ensure infants can continue to drink mother’s milk after a new mother returns to work by passing basic workplace protections.

The Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health recently unveiled our 2018 legislative priorities.

We selected these priorities based on the current status of women’s health and economic security in Pennsylvania, an expert legal analysis of legal loopholes and blind spots in state anti-discrimination laws, and listening to women tell us what they need to become healthy and raise families in economic security. Many of the bills we support have been introduced by lawmakers in the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Thank you to all of our partners in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health and organizers across the state who worked on the Community Conversations throughout 2017.

If you are the member of an organization interested in joining the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, or want to explore partnering with the Campaign to host a Community Conversation on Women’s Health in your area, please contact pa4womenshealth@gmail.com.

To follow our coverage of these issues and our progress, follow the Campaign on Facebook.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WLP Asks PA Supreme Court to Review Crucial Case With Significant Implications for Rights of Pregnant Women 

 

The issue of whether a pregnant woman can be charged civilly or criminally with child abuse for her drug use during pregnancy has been a pressing issue of American law and politics for almost three decades.

Attorneys at the Women’s law Project have worked on issues related to punishing women for prenatal drug use for over two decades, including as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in the successful U.S. Supreme Court case of Ferguson v. City of Charleston.

The Women’s Law Project is now co-counseling another case involving drug use during pregnancy, this one before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Last week, the Law Project, along with Robert Lugg of Lugg & Lugg in Lock Haven, asked the state Supreme Court to review a decision from the Superior Court that held that a woman can be charged with civil child abuse for using drugs when pregnant.

At issue in this particular case, In re L.J.B., is whether or not a woman’s use of illegal drugs can constitute child abuse if, by using the illegal drugs, the woman intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused, or created a reasonable likelihood of, bodily injury to a child after birth, under Pennsylvania law.

“This case is incredibly important because, as the concurring judges on the Superior Court recognized, if women can be found to be child abusers based on actions taken while pregnant, almost any activity could ultimately lead to such a finding, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, exercising too much, traveling to a foreign country, and so on,” said Professor David S. Cohen, a WLP Board Member who is co-counsel on the case (along with WLP Executive Director Carol Tracy). “We cannot allow Pennsylvania to punish pregnancy in this manner.”

This case raises significant—and timely, given we are amid an opioid public health emergency—issues of substantial public importance.

What is at stake?

This case may have profound implications for public health.

Every major private and public health organization, including the National Perinatal Association (NPA) the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ACOG), recognizes that punishing pregnant women for prenatal drug use is counterproductive to public health goals.

From a statement issued by NPA: “NPA opposes punitive measures that deter women from seeking appropriate care during the course of their pregnancies. . . . NPA supports comprehensive drug treatment programs for pregnant women that are family-centered and work to keep mothers and children together whenever possible.”

Other organizations agree — punishing pregnant women does not help result in healthy pregnancies but rather scares women from seeking prenatal care and drug treatment, making everyone less healthy.

This case may have profound implications for women’s rights.

This case intersects with important constitutional issues, and may have broad implications for all pregnant women, and perhaps all women of child-bearing age.

“Punishing pregnant women for drug use during pregnancy could open the door to punishing pregnant women for all sorts of other behaviors, including things like eating cold cuts, soft cheese, and sushi,” says WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy. “Drinking wine and coffee, taking prescription medicine, traveling to countries that potentially have Zika, being treated for cancer, traveling by plane late in the pregnancy, and being assaulted by an abusive partner, too”

Indeed, the door could open to punishing all women of childbearing age for actions taken before getting pregnant, or even contemplating getting pregnant.

The lower court’s decision, if allowed to stand, could also lead some women who know that they are dealing with an untreated substance abuse problem to choose to terminate their pregnancies, implicating important principles of reproductive justice and rights.

Clinton County Youth Services, the opposing party in the case, will respond to the petition soon, and the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case sometime this spring.

You can read the petition here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Pregnancy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sexual Harassment at Work: Know Your Rights in Pennsylvania

We are in the midst of an extraordinary culture shift.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp  movements have unleashed a fury on the part of women who have been subjected to behaviors which, at their worst, involve felonious sexual assault in the workplace but also include offensive and humiliating words and gestures which have no place in a respectful environment.

In response to growing interest in addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault, the Women’s Law Project just published a know-your-rights fact sheet for Pennsylvania workers.

It provides an overview of the law and recommendations to protect yourself when you experience sexual harassment, focusing on employment rights and relevant crime laws.

From the fact sheet:

If a person is sexually harassed, their rights will depend on where the harassment occurred and what laws apply. Behavior that meets the definition of sexual harassment is against the law. It violates civil laws that apply to the workplace and it could also violate criminal laws. For example, a sexual assault committed by a co-worker that an employer has ignored violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and sexual assault is also a crime.

There are many differences between civil and criminal laws. How a person reports the sexual harassment, the enforcement, and the remedies (how the harassment gets addressed) are different. It is important to note that if the harassment violates both civil and criminal laws, as in the case of sexual assault, the victim does not have to report the violation to police in order to obtain civil remedies.

You can view and download Sexual Harassment at Work: Know Your Rights in Pennsylvania here.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in working women | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Call to Action: Urge PA Senators to Vote NO on Abortion Ban Opposed by Medical Experts

According to several reports, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is teeing up a 20-week abortion ban to be voted on as soon as today.

If there’s one political golden rule since Nixon, it’s this: When everything feels like it’s falling apart, that’s when we see politicians make a spectacle of playing politics with women’s lives.

That is certainly the case with S. 2311, which seeks to install an arbitrary time limit for abortion that is not only medically unnecessary, but is medically dangerous for patients experiencing crisis pregnancies.

The evidence demonstrates that arbitrary pre-viability time limits on abortion rob women of their right to make their own medical decisions, and endangers the lives of women facing crisis pregnancies. It is also unconstitutional.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) strongly opposes this bill. ACOG’s statement to U.S. Senators urging opposition:

Haywood L. Brown, M.D., president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), released the following statement in response to the United States Senate’s expected vote on S. 2311.

“The United States Senate should abandon S. 2311 and all legislation that limits women’s access to comprehensive health care, including abortion care. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes every type of political interference in the practice of medicine, including legislation that bans abortion at an arbitrary cutoff point.

“This bill ignores scientific evidence regarding fetal inability to experience pain at that gestational age. In addition, the phrase “probable post-fertilization age” is not medically or clinically meaningful, as it is impossible to know the precise date of fertilization, except where fertilization is achieved through assisted reproductive technology. This language creates ambiguity that would leave abortion providers vulnerable to unwarranted punishment.

“S. 2311 targets and punishes abortion providers who terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks with up to five years in prison. It is an unconstitutional attempt to intimidate health care providers and prevent them from providing the safe care their patients want and need.

“There are many reasons a woman may seek abortion care at 20 weeks, including fatal or serious medical conditions to the woman and/or her fetus that cannot be diagnosed at earlier stages of pregnancy. Determining if and when an abortion is necessary belongs in the exam room, between a woman, her physician and those she trusts – not on the Senate floor. “

“ACOG urges the Senate to reject S. 2311 and instead focus on protecting women’s access to safe, evidence-based and comprehensive care.”

Urge Senator Bob Casey and Senator Pat Toomey to listen to medical experts, and vote NO on S. 2311.

How to Contact Senator Bob Casey:

Email Sen. Casey, call Sen. Casey at (202) 224-6324, post on his Facebook page, and/or tweet at him @SenBobCasey.

How to Contact Senator Pat Toomey:

Email Sen. Toomey, call Sen. Toomey at (202) 224-4254, post on his Facebook page, and/or tweet at him @SenToomey.

The Women’s Law Project is a public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

Posted in Call to Action | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment