I just attended a great Philadelphia Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) event about the state of food service work in the city. Held at Tequilas Restaurant downtown, the event featured speakers who included Councilman Jim Kenney, sponsor of last year’s anti tip theft legislation, and Councilman William Greenlee, sponsor of the earned sick leave bill so recently vetoed by Mayor Nutter.
The main event was the presentation of ROC’s report on the state of the food service industry in Philadelphia. (Good news: “Over the last decade, the number of restaurants in Philadelphia has grown by 40%”/ Bad news: “Restaurant workers wages have declined by 11% since 2001.”) I’ll have more on this later for Next American City.
Also, notable was Councilman Kenney’s passionate, pro-immigrant speech, where he talked about the need to make Philadelphia a welcoming environment for immigrants, documented or not. To paraphrase: “If I were mayor, we would not work with ICE” (the often draconian federal immigration agency). He said that the anti-immigrant laws championed by “lunatics” like Daryl Metcalf (the rabidly right-wing state legislator) reminded him of the anti-Irish hysteria of the bad old days. Kenney also hates the term “illegal alien”–”They’re not doing anything wrong, and they’re not from Mars.”
Kenney even hinted that he could, perhaps, be persuaded to support the earned sick days bill which needs a stronger council majority to override Nutter’s veto. Greenlee, shouted from the audience: “I’ve got the bill with me here, Jim!” (Kenney presumably did not support the bill last time for the same reason that NYC City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been gumming up the works to the north: Both pols want to be mayor and neither want to alienate the business community.)
In all, it was a progressive speech that played very well with attendees I spoke with afterwards. Hopefully Kenney can be brought round on the earned sick days issue, which is vitally important for improving low-wage work in Philadelphia, especially in the food service industry.