Philly’s coronavirus response

Philly vows to pay seasonal workers at libraries and rec centers during shutdown

Hundreds of furloughed city employees are now guaranteed paychecks throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Free Library of Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia

Miguel Martinez / Billy Penn
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Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is going to keep paying hundreds of seasonal workers who’ve been sent home due to the coronavirus outbreak in Philly.

At the beginning of the week, officials announced all non-essential city employees would not be required to report to work as of Wednesday. But at the same time, the city promised the emergency protocol would not disrupt anyone’s paychecks.

That’s not the case for hundreds of thousands of private sector workers in the region, who found themselves essentially out of work overnight when the COVID-19 crisis pulled a blanket over the U.S. and regional economy.

If you work for the city, though, you’re in a better spot — even if you’re a seasonal employee.

Kenney’s plan did not initially include those hundreds of furloughed seasonal workers, who don’t enjoy the same protections as the city’s largely unionized full-time workforce. A citywide total wasn’t available, but right now the Free Library employs close to 325 seasonal staffers, according to the mayor’s office, with another 450 or so at the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Full-time library employees were initially outraged at the lack of immediate support for their contracted colleagues, many of whom make lower wages.

“We were very concerned that all of our colleagues would not be treated fairly and supported,” said Erin Hoopers, a library supervisor.

The administration was still figuring how to handle seasonal worker pay as late as Tuesday afternoon, according to Brian Abernathy, the city’s managing director. The mayor’s office later confirmed to Billy Penn it would pay furloughed employees for hours they would have regularly worked if not for the shutdown — and that payments will continue until it ends.

“As a government, we’re doing everything we can to support residents and our workforce during this challenging time,” Kenney said in a statement to Billy Penn.

“In this case it means maintaining stability for our seasonal workers who depend on this income, and on whom we depend to help run our parks, recreation centers, and libraries throughout the year.”

Seasonal worker Flan, who asked to have their last name withheld, has been a leader with Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program (LEAP) at the Free Library for three years. Many of their colleagues are Black women and queer people, they said, whose financial security is an issue even under normal circumstances.

Seasonal workers do not receive civil service protections that regulate payment for excused time, or “e-time,” in the event of emergencies — whether it be a blizzard or a viral outbreak.

“Our employment is really precarious compared to full-time employees,” Flan said. “That anxiety has no end.”

Kenney has made little effort to conceal his concerns about COVID-19’s economic toll on the city. As of Tuesday afternoon, 18 Philadelphians had tested positive with the virus — a figure that has grown exponentially by the day.

The administration expects unemployment rates to skyrocket and businesses to suffer. Kenney said he doesn’t have a dollar estimate in terms of the hit on the city’s budget. It’s contingent on the duration of the shutdown. However: “It’s not good,” he told reporters at City Hall on Tuesday.

For now, everyone agrees that keeping furloughed employees on payroll will ultimately help ease the burden.

Said Hoopes, the library supervisor: “We’ll all be financially taken care of during the crisis — and we’re really relieved about that.”

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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