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PHILADELPHIA -- As much of Southeastern Pennsylvania enters the “green phase” of reopening, with fewer COVID-19-related restrictions, the City Council voted to approve a bill to protect workers who speak up about coronavirus-related safety concerns. If Mayor Jim Kenney signs the bill into law, it will be illegal for employers to fire, discipline, or otherwise retaliate against these workers. Philadelphia is the first city in the country to pass such a measure during the pandemic. This is a significant victory, with a unanimous City Council vote and coordination between many disparate workers’ groups.
Federal law already prohibits retaliation against workers who complain of unsafe conditions, but it is difficult for the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce. When businesses reopen next week, health inspectors will circulate around the city to ensure that businesses are following COVID-19 safety guidelines. They will also rely on the public to report violations.
In response, Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG’s Campaign Associate, made this statement:
“As Philadelphians navigate the challenges of trying to return to normal while the coronavirus pandemic reaches record levels in some parts of the country, I applaud City Council for passing this important bill to protect our neighbors returning to work. While our state leaders have led us through this difficult public health crisis with grace, we need to make sure that our friends and family can protect themselves and others. The past three months have struck a serious financial blow to workers across our city and folks are desperate to get back to work. However, those workplaces must be safe for both employees and customers.
The unanimous support behind the bill in City Council shows widespread recognition of the need to not let down our guard. PennPIRG encourages Mayor Kenney to sign this bill into law and ensure the safety of our city’s workers. While the public bears some responsibility to report non compliance they witness, the city must do its due diligence to inform business owners of the proper protocol and safety precautions -- and then enforce it. The city must also dedicate resources to enforce these increased protections for workers. If we truly want to protect public health, we cannot afford to have workers silenced by the fear of retribution when they want to report coronavirus-related health violations. This law intends to protect workers from this fear, but we must stand behind them to make it effective.
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