Sweeping new protections for parking attendants and valets head to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for his signature or veto.
City Council passed a pair of bills to provide labor standards for these workers — who are overwhelmingly Black — on Thursday, which include requiring a “just cause” to fire employees and minimum staffing standards.
Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, the main sponsor of the bills, said she hoped the legislation would push employees and employers to “reach some common ground” to ensure workers have better working conditions and wages.
Parker added the industry should view the bills as “an effort to gain allies” in its calls to reduce its tax burden. The city’s parking tax is 22.5%.
But Parker’s aim to build allies appeared to be off the mark.
“I don’t know how making it more difficult and more challenging to be in the parking business is going to help there be a parking business,” said Robert Zuritsky, president of the Philadelphia Parking Association.
Zuritsky, who represents more than a dozen parking companies with 2,200 employees, said the industry already was expecting the loss of 2,000 parking spaces and approximately 100 jobs this year. The bills, he said, would accelerate the reduction of parking in the city.
“The industry is in terrible shape and we’ve been really looking for some relief and all we’re getting is additional burdens on the industry,” said Zuritsky, president of Parkway Corporation.
Kenney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The bills drew support from the Black community.
The majority of Philadelphia’s garage and parking lot workers are Black (9 out of 10) and earn a median wage of $9.50 an hour, according to the nonpartisan Keystone Research Center’s report that surveyed workers. Most lack benefits, too.
Philadelphia’s 26% poverty rate will remain steady unless service workers receive higher wages that can sustain families, said Gregory Holston, a pastor and executive director of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER).
Holston said at City Council that the bills were “taking one more step in the right direction of protecting service workers and lifting up service workers in this city.”
One of the bills will require that employers provide a “just cause” or economic reason to fire an employee or reduce his weekly work hours by more than 15%.
The bill also mandates so-called “progressive discipline” and a range of “reasonable responses” to an employee’s misconduct or failure to perform duties, and retaliation against employees would be outlawed. Layoffs must be based on seniority, too.
Fines for failure to comply with the law can reach up to $2,000 and the city would have the authority to reinstate an employee, restore hours and require an operator to provide back pay.
The companion bill amends existing legislation to require “sufficient staff” at parking facilities, a minimum loosely defined as having enough employees to ensure safety and “good order.”
Enforcement of the “just cause” bill would fall under the purview of the Mayor’s Office of Labor, while Licenses and Inspections would oversee the enforcement of the minimum staffing bill.
Gina Cain, a 50-year-old city resident who has been working as a parking attendant for almost six years, said she earned $7.66 an hour working the overnight shift, frequently alone with no security or co-workers. Employees constantly fear firings and punishments, which are doled out indiscriminately, she said.
A mother of two grown children and a teenager, Cain said the legislation will make life safer and better for parking attendants like her.
“I should not fear for my job,” she said. “In the parking industry, we know that we can be fired or punished at anytime for no reason.”