Philly Mayor Jim Kenney pushes back rollout of ‘fair workweek’ law as critics cry foul

By: - December 11, 2019 6:30 am

The skyline in Center City Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia’s hourly workers counting on so-called fair workweek protections to start next month will be disappointed.

The Kenney administration postponed the full rollout of the new labor protections to July 1, with part of the law going into effect earlier. The legislation passed in December 2018 with an original start date of January 2020.

The landmark legislation will affect approximately 130,000 service and hospitality workers — many of whom are low-wage employees — and require employers to provide advance notice of schedules, pay workers for last minute schedule changes, and guarantee workers rest time between shifts.

The delay drew alarm from activist groups.

“It is embarrassing for our city to pass groundbreaking worker protections, only to kowtow to industry pressures after the fact or delay implementation due to lack of preparation,” said Cecily Harwitt, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Respect Every Worker, in an email.

“Workers and advocates fought hard for this life-changing legislation, and cannot continue to wait.”

The Kenney administration quietly announced the delay in a pre-Thanksgiving post on the city website and did not notify the coalition, which is made up of labor and worker justice groups who pushed for the legislation, including One Pennsylvania, PA Domestic Workers Alliance, and Community Legal Services. The coalition called on the mayor to keep the original implementation date.

Lauren Cox, a spokeswoman for the Kenney administration, said in an email the law required an “extensive process to draft regulations.” The delayed timeline will allow for the city, industry, and workers to be better prepared for the new rules.

“We understand that a delay is not ideal,” she said, “but it is the administration’s belief that this short delay will ensure compliance and enforcement when the law goes into effect.

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“Had this process been rushed, the law would have been in effect on January with both businesses and workers unclear about exactly what the rules and regulations were.”

The first draft of the law’s regulations was put up for public comment in October and November, followed by a hearing later in November, Cox said.

The Mayor’s Office of Labor was developing a report on those comments and final regulations for the new law, both of which were expected to be completed and released this month.

The administration does not expect to push back the law’s start date again, Cox said.

This year, the Kenney administration gathered 15 stakeholders, including labor activists and industry leaders, for a handful of meetings to coordinate implementation of the law.

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The delayed start date of the new law did not seem to worry At-large Councilwoman Helen Gym, the main sponsor of the legislation.

“It’s one thing to write a law, and another to put it into action,” Gym said in an email. “That takes making sure workers know what they’re entitled to, that employers have the tools to comply, and that the city is ready to robustly enforce the law.”

The law’s requirement that employers provide their employees with a “good faith estimate” of the number of hours they can expect to work over a 90-day period will not be enforced until July 1.

The rest of the law’s regulations will go into effect on April 1. When they do, some hourly workers can depend on getting at least 10 days advance notice of their schedules, which will extend to 14 days notice after January 2021.

Under the law, when employers reduce or cancel a worker’s hours after the deadline, an employee will receive no less than half of the pay they expected to earn, which is known as predictability pay. Exemptions were carved out in the legislation for circumstances beyond an employer’s control, such as for last-minute banquet events.

The new law also will guarantee a worker at least nine hours of rest between consecutive shifts.

Other big cities, have passed similar legislation, including New York City and Seattle.

Not all Philadelphia workers are covered under the law.

The mandates will apply to establishments with at least 250 employees and 30 locations worldwide, that is, large chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks. The law will provide protections for full-time and part-time hourly employees, as well as seasonal and temporary workers, including those in the service, retail and food industries.

The mandates do not protect salaried employees in managerial positions who earn $24,000 or more per year.

During the past two years, City Council and Kenney have worked together to boost protections for workers.

At the end of 2018, city officials agreed to gradually raise the minimum wage for public employees to $15 over four years. In October, City Council passed a so-called bill of rights for domestic workers, ensuring approximately 16,000 home health aides, nannies and housekeepers receive contracts, overtime wages and weekly schedules.

Looking ahead to the city’s enforcement of these new laws, Coalition to Respect Every Worker called on the Kenney administration to beef up staff and funding to ensure workers benefit from the protections.

“If the City does not have the capacity to enforce the laws that it passes, such as the recent Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, workers will see little benefit,” Harwitt said.

The Mayor’s Office of Labor, Cox said, has prioritized community outreach in the leadup to the new law going into effect. Officials will leverage partnerships to provide training throughout the city and offer compliance assistance to businesses.

“The office plans to investigate every complaint filed and answer inquiries,” she said.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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