Restaurants sue Pittsburgh over paid sick leave

In the second legal challenge in a little more than a month to a piece of Pittsburgh City Council legislation, a trade association and a group of local businesses are suing the city over its paid-sick leave ordinance, signed into law by the mayor in August.

The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association joined Storms Restaurant and Catering, The Church Brew Works, Rita’s Italian Ice, Dirt Doctors Cleaning Service and Modern Cafe, Inc. in a suit filed Monday that called the law, which requires all businesses in the city to provide paid sick leave, “an illegal exercise of municipal authority.” 

“Pittsburgh has not only ignored the individual business realities facing employers but has violated the statutory limits on its power,” the complaint says, asking a judge to declare the ordinance “null and void.”

The lawsuit cites state law that prevents municipalities with home rule charters from determining “duties, responsibilities or requirements placed upon businesses, occupations and employers,” the same passage referenced in a lawsuit filed last month over an ordinance the council passed in May that laid out training requirements for security guards and other employers of large buildings. In 2006, a judge struck down a council law intended to protect employees of service companies, such as janitors, who lose their jobs when their companies lose contracts. The same limitations of the home rule charter law was the basis of that decision.

Those legal concerns, and saddling city taxpayers with defending another lawsuit, convinced Councilwoman Darlene Harris to abstain on the vote. She said the city Law Department warned in advance that the law would be vulnerable to a successful legal challenge. Councilman Daniel Lavelle also voted against the law.

“Each of us make up our own mind and we have to live with the votes,” Mrs. Harris said.

Councilman Corey O’Connor, who introduced the law and pushed it to passage with the support of the SEIU and other labor and community groups, said he and his staff worked closely with the restaurant association to amend the legislation. The number of sick days employees could accrue was reduced, notification policies were changed to favor businesses and tipped employees could only earn minimum wage for sick time, among other changes.

“At this point it’s up for the courts to decide and we’ll ultimately follow the law,” Mr. O’Connor said. “We thought we were doing the right thing as a council with leadership from the mayor. ... Obviously you can’t please everybody.”

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city “knows it is on the right side of history on paid sick leave."   

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