Councilman Bobby Henon is reportedly gearing up for a major legislative push to set up a mechanism that would pay privately employed individuals taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which covers events like pregnancies and serious health emergencies.
Early discussions surrounding the yet-to-be-introduced legislation include talk of a possible wage tax hike or suspension of planned reductions to fund the proposal.
Henon, who has kept a relatively low profile since he was targeted by FBI raids last year, has been working on the bill since at least late 2016, according to an email sent to members of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
The late-December email, obtained by City&State PA, states that Henon’s office had reached out to the chamber for advice on crafting an early draft of the legislation.
Sent by the chamber's government affairs director, Darrell Davis, the email lays out a conceptual framework for the nascent plan. It describes a proposal to reimburse employees’ full salaries for up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave. The coverage, which would be offered to individuals who had been employed for at least one year, could be paid out of a third-party organization, like a privately contracted company.
These costs could be paid with a half percent to one percent increase in the city’s wage tax. Council sources said Henon staffers had more recently floated the concept of banking planned reductions of the city’s wage tax as an alternative funding mechanism.
“The Chamber has not been given an estimated implementation cost, but it is expected to be significant,” Davis writes. “Projected numbers are that this entity would pay out 44,000 covered events and that it would need to generate $300 million a year to cover.”
Davis pointedly does not take a stance on the proposal but asks members to provide input on the draft, especially if they have experience in states with similar laws, like New Jersey.
The email also describes a possible exemption for small businesses – but council sources said this idea had been scrapped in later iterations of the draft. Numerous sources confirmed that Henon had also reached out to colleagues and Mayor Jim Kenney’s office about the proposal.
The chamber acknowledged both the email and Henon’s proposal.
“Councilman Henon hasn’t introduced anything yet, but we’re just trying to get a better understanding of how this could impact the chamber’s membership,” said spokesperson Liz Ferry, in a phone call. “At this stage, we’ve been talking to council people and are waiting to see what comes out.”
Henon's acknowledged that they were exploring paid family leave legislation, but said that responses from the Chamber had significantly altered original drafts of the bill.
"We are still working through some of the details and aren't ready to share it yet (changes may still happen and we haven't made a final decision on whether we will introduce [it]," said Henon spokesperson Jolene Nieves Byzon, in an email.
Business input or no, any similar proposal is unlikely to receive a warm reception from private employers as it would come on the heels of a mini-revolt by some of the city’s largest companies over City Council’s perceived meddling in the local business community.
In hearings and memos, some businesses had slammed a council bill barring employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. Some bemoaned paid sick leave legislation and other rules recently enacted by council – although the jury is out on exactly how onerous these laws have become.
Comcast, in a memo obtained by the Inquirer, threatened Mayor Jim Kenney with possible legal action if he signed off on the legislation – which he did anyway.
The Mayor’s office declined to comment on Henon’s proposal until it had been formally introduced in a council session.
However, the Mayor also pledged to continue planned wage tax reductions and not raise other taxes at a luncheon hosted by the chamber today.
This article has been updated to include a comment from Councilman Henon's office.