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Court deals setbacks to Pittsburgh laws intended to help low-wage …

Updated 11 hours ago

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court on Wednesday dealt setbacks to two ordinances Pittsburgh City Council passed and Mayor Bill Peduto signed despite repeated warnings that they would be vulnerable to legal challenges. The court ruled that the council in 2015 had no authority to enact ordinances intended to help low-wage workers by requiring businesses to offer low-wage employees paid sick leave[1] and building owners to provide training[2] for security guards. In both cases, the court dismissed appeals by the city and Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ and agreed with Allegheny County Court rulings that both ordinances violated the city’s Home Rule charter.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association along with a group of five businesses Storms Restaurant and Catering, Church Brew Works, Rita’s Italian Ice, Modern Cafe and Dirt Doctors Cleaning Service sued the city, contending that the ordinances were illegal because they overstepped the city’s authority to control how private businesses operate.

This was a law that exceeded the legal abilities granted by the Home Rule Charter and we certainly hope that the city will move forward from this decision, stop spending taxpayer money to support a mandate that has been struck down twice already and work with the business community and not against us on continuing to make the city of Pittsburgh a great place to live and work, said Melissa Bova, spokeswoman for the Restaurant and Lodging Association. Pittsburgh is planning to appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Peduto. A statement from SEIU 32BJ said the organizaiton is disappointed but not surprised by the court’s rulings.

Attorneys for Pittsburgh, in both cases, argued that the ordinances were enacted to protect public health and that the Home Rule Charter permits public health regulations. The court ruled that the charter expressly limits a home rule municipality’s regulation of businesses.

We recognize that paid sick leave for employees is a laudable goal, Judge Michael H. Wojcik wrote. The power to achieve that goal rests with our General Assembly, however, through statewide legislation addressing paid sick leave or, alternatively, through legislation vesting authority to do so in local municipalities. Judge Joseph M. Cosgrove dissented in both cases, saying the ordinances were created to protect public health.

That indeed is what municipalities are for, he wrote. If the people of Pittsburgh disagree with this action, they will address their dissatisfaction through the political process. It is not for this court to interfere.

The security guard ordinance prohibited guards from working in commercial and retail buildings larger than 100,000 square feet without training at a facility certified by the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau in use of force, terrorism detection and emergency response. Employers were required to pay for the training. The second ordinance required businesses with 15 or more employees to offer up to 40 hours of paid time off year, and those with fewer than 15 employees to offer as many as 24 hours. PTO hours would accrue depending on the number of hours worked, according to the ordinance.

Essentially this court agreed that (Allegheny County Court) was correct in striking down this ordinance as illegal, said Downtown attorney Greg Evashavik, who represented the building owners group. Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to enforce either of the laws because of the court rulings.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.

References

  1. ^ paid sick leave (triblive.com)
  2. ^ building owners to provide training (triblive.com)

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