City Council unanimously approved a bill Thursday morning that will make it illegal for employers to fire, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against workers who speak up about unsafe coronavirus conditions., according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The vote came during Council’s last session before summer recess and as employees in Philadelphia get called back to work during the city’s less-restrictive “yellow” reopening phase.
If signed by Mayor Jim Kenney, who has already expressed his support, Philadelphia will become the first big city in the country to give workers stronger legal protection against this kind of retaliation.
“This bill protects the most essential resource America has: the worker,” said Richard Hooker, head of UPS union Teamsters Local 623.
It’s a victory for the local labor community and an indication of what it can accomplish when sometimes disparate groups come together. The bill, which made it through the legislative process in a month, came out of a coalition of union and nonunion worker groups who were lobbying for pandemic worker protections. More than two dozen labor groups supported the bill, introduced by Councilmember Helen Gym.
New Jersey’s state legislature is considering a similar bill, backed by worker center Make the Road New Jersey.
A federal law already prohibits retaliation against workers who call out unsafe conditions, but the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a “very poor track record” of handling such complaints, said former OSHA official Debbie Berkowitz. In most cases, she said, the complaints are dismissed.
Melissa Bova, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said her industry group recognized “the necessity of keeping guests and employees safe during this crisis.”
“Employees should feel safe in their workplace, and if safety measures and requirements are not being followed, that should be investigated,” she said, adding that the PRLA appreciated a change in the bill that said workers cannot refuse a work assignment if a city or state inspection finds a business compliant with COVID-19 safety guidelines.