Advocacy Group Working To Enforce 'Unenforceable' Law One Restaurant At A Time

Sep 21, 2016

Bantha Tea Bar on Penn Avenue in Garfield is among the first three restaurants to voluntarily offer its employees paid sick time, similar to legislation passed by the Pittsburgh City Council in 2015. The law was later deemed unenforceable.
Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

A law requiring businesses in Pittsburgh to give workers paid sick leave has been tied up for nearly a year in the courts, so a workers advocacy group is taking the fight directly to restaurant owners.

Under the law passed in August 2015, a worker at any business in the city would accrue one hour of sick time for each 35 hours worked; up to 24 hours per year for smaller employers and 40 hours for larger employers. But a suit filed by several business and organizations is pending before the state Supreme Court, making the law unenforceable.

In reaction, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United is working with three restaurants to start offering the benefit voluntarily.  So far they have signed up Apteka, Bantha Tea Bar and Mixtape.  All of them are in the Penn Avenue corridor in Bloomfield-Garfield.

“We want to make sure it goes well and we get a lot of people supporting them,” center spokesman Jordan Romanus said. “What we want to do is really just get a density within each business district and then move to the next one.”

Romanus said their next stop is the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Mixtape co-owner Katie Molchan said the idea of offering paid sick time was part of the business plan from the very beginning.

“One of the things we were trying to do was really set up a very collaborative environment where everyone felt like they were really part of the team and invested,” Molchan said.  “Not just as someone as who clocks in and clocks out, but maybe had a little bit more invested in the business and maybe felt like they were a little bit more attached to it.”

Molchan is offering more than would be required under proposed city law. Despite having only six employees, they are offering the 40 hours required of businesses with more than 15 employees, and workers can access the sick time right away rather than having to accrue it.

“Is someone’s sick, even if they’ve been with you for a week, you still really don’t want them coming in,” she said.

Molchan said so far they have not seen any abuse of the policy.