Philadelphia City Council Introduces Bill to Protect Workers in The Age of COVID-19

On June 12th, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Philadelphia City Council proposed a bill that would prohibit retaliation against both workers who refuse to work in unsafe conditions where they could risk exposure to COVID-19 and who blow the whistle on said dangerous conditions.

Bill No. 200328, introduced on May 21st and sponsored by Councilwoman Helen Gym, first establishes that all employers should “comply with all aspects of public health orders addressing safe workplace practices to mitigate risks” related to COVID-19. The text of the bill then covers protections for workers, stating that “No employer shall take any adverse employment or other action against an employee” if they refuse to work in conditions that do not comply with public safety guidelines. Additionally, the bill states that “no employer shall take any adverse employment or other action against any employee for making a protected disclosure.” Finally, the bill explains the technicalities of how a coronavirus whistleblower should approach filing a complaint.

The bill has garnered support from 25 labor groups in Philadelphia. On June 8th, they collectively sent a letter to City Council President Clarke to every member of the city council, urging the President to support Bill No. 200328. In the letter, they state that the bill should not affect employers who are already “obeying the COVID-19 related public health practices.” They reiterate the bill’s focus on the protections for Philadelphia workers—protections that the groups deem “necessary to protect the public health and prevent the spread of the virus.”

Bill No. 200328 comes at a critical time for Philadelphia workers: unions have been working since April to increase protections for workers in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. It also enters the national dialogue on the heels of essential workers’ stories and struggles during the pandemic coming to light. The Inquirer article on the bill quotes Dermot Delude-Dix, an analyst for union Unite Here as saying: “If workers fear speaking up about risky conditions, infections could spread throughout a workplace and lead to entire communities catching the virus.” The Inquirer notes that this threat invokes the story of workers at Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. According to an article from the Des Moines Register from early May, more than 800 of 3700 employees had contracted COVID-19.

The Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Law and Government will hold a hearing on the bill today, and the last City Council session is on June 25th.

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