Paid Sick Days Bill Has Unexpected Opponent: Comcast

Mike Elk March 20, 2013

Michael Nutter, Philadelphia's mayor, is expected to veto a paid sick leave bill passed by the City Council and opposed by Comcast.

Last week, the Philadel­phia City Coun­cil passed a bill that would require near­ly all employ­ers in Philadel­phia to pro­vide paid sick days for their work­ers. (The only exemp­tions were mom and pop” com­pa­nies with less than 6 employ­ees.) The bill now awaits Philadel­phia May­or Michael Nutter’s sig­na­ture. Many expect the may­or to veto the bill, as he did a sim­i­lar bill in 2011
If passed, the bill would make Philadel­phia the fifth major U.S. city to man­date paid sick days, fol­low­ing Port­land, which passed just such a bill last week. As Nut­ter decides whether to veto the bill, an unusu­al play­er has emerged to oppose it: Comcast. 

The cable com­pa­ny is a major pres­ence in Philadel­phia, occu­py­ing the 58-sto­ry Com­cast Cen­ter, which was financed large­ly by an annu­al 95 per­cent tax break that Com­cast still enjoys for con­struct­ing the city’s tallest build­ing. With more than 6,000 employ­ees in Philadel­phia, Com­cast is a major local polit­i­cal play­er. And despite the fact its own employ­ees receive paid sick days, Com­cast spent $108,400 in 2012 to lob­by against the bill, accord­ing to fil­ings with the city’s Board of Ethics. The deci­sion has left many Philadel­phia polit­i­cal observers scratch­ing their heads.

I think they are kin­da car­ry­ing the ball for the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty because Com­cast is a respect­ed com­pa­ny in this city,” says City Coun­cil­man Bill Green­lee, the lead spon­sor of the bill. That’s just my guess, nobody has said that to me. I think what their real argu­ment is, We don’t want you to tell us what to do. We don’t want to be mandated.’ ”

Com­cast says they oppose the bill because it would be too heavy of a finan­cial burden.

Com­cast employs more than 6,000 full- and part-time employ­ees in the City of Philadel­phia and pro­vides our employ­ees with a gen­er­ous com­pen­sa­tion pack­age that, among oth­er ben­e­fits, includes sub­stan­tial paid-time off oppor­tu­ni­ties that meet and, in most cas­es, exceed the require­ments set forth in this bill,” Com­cast spokesman Jeff Alexan­der wrote in a press state­ment. So while we ful­ly sup­port paid sick leave for our employ­ees — and pro­vide it — Com­cast, like many oth­er local com­pa­nies, oppos­es this bill. It would cre­ate unnec­es­sary admin­is­tra­tive bur­den and would dis­rupt a uni­form ben­e­fits pack­age that is best in class and that our employ­ees have embraced in its cur­rent form.” 

How­ev­er, union activists who have been attempt­ing to orga­nize work­ers at Com­cast say that while the com­pa­ny does offer paid sick leave, in real­i­ty work­ers often have a very tough time using it.

“[Com­cast’s oppo­si­tion] does­n’t sur­prise me. You would think that Com­cast work­ers, giv­en [the com­pa­ny’s] prof­its, would be treat­ed much bet­ter than they actu­al­ly are but they are not,” says Steve Smith, an orga­niz­er with the Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Elec­tri­cal Work­ers (IBEW). They all have a few paid sick days. The prob­lem with the paid sick days is that they are penal­ized when they take any. They have met­rics at work. One of the met­rics is being there at work. They will look at how many days you were absent and use it against you. You have them but are penal­ized for using them.”

Green­lee, though, does­n’t think his bill would affect Com­cast’s cur­rent paid leave poli­cies, say­ing, It’s a com­plaint-dri­ven bill. As I explained to [Com­cast], I think the like­li­hood they will get any com­plaints is very low.”

How­ev­er, Smith says that the very prece­dent of the city gov­ern­ment using its legal pow­er to reg­u­late how an employ­er can par­cel out unpaid sick days has led Com­cast to oppose the bill.

They are hop­ing that no prece­dent gets set about these paid sick days,” says Smith.

May­or Nut­ter has until April 4 to veto the bill, which many, includ­ing Green­lee, expect him to do. How­ev­er, some activists still hope Nut­ter will side with work­ers over Comcast.

Big media com­pa­nies like this real­ly lim­it the voic­es of poor and work­ing peo­ple in the media,” says Han­nah Sas­saman, a mem­ber of the Media Mobi­liz­ing Project based in Philadel­phia. Com­cast shouldn’t have the right to deny peo­ple their voice in hav­ing the dig­ni­ty of a paid day off.”

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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