Petition Push To Drive Ballot Initiative Process For Earned Sick Leave Ordinances Spreads To Five N.J. Municipalities

PolitickerNJ — Wednesday, August 6, 2014

By Mark Bonamo

MONTCLAIR — A grassroots coalition of activists and workers delivered thousands of petitions to five New Jersey municipal governments on Tuesday in an attempt to boost the drive to place local ordinances that would guarantee the right of the municipalities' private sector workers to earn paid sick days on the ballot.

The petition drive specifically targeted the municipalities of Irvington, Montclair, Passaic, Paterson, and Trenton. Newark and Jersey City have already enacted earned sick days laws. On Monday, East Orange introduced similar legislation. If enacted, the ordinances would cover 74,000 workers who are unable to earn paid sick days to care for themselves or their families in the event of an illness. Combined with Newark and Jersey City, a full 144,000 workers will have received the right to earn sick days through local ordinances.

"Today New Jerseyans around the state have delivered an unmistakable message to their elected leaders: earned sick days should be a basic workplace right," said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. "Voters understand that no workers should ever be forced to choose between their paycheck and their health. We all get sick, so we all need the time to care for ourselves and our families when illness strikes."

Each of the cities participating in the campaign are organized under New Jersey's Faulkner Act. Under the terms of the Faulkner Act, legislative proposals can go through the ballot initiative process if supporters collect resident petitions amounting to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last municipal election in which members of the New Jersey Assembly were on the ballot. After the signatures are reviewed by the municipal clerk in the respective municipalities, the municipal council can either choose to pass the law without substantial amendment by a simple majority vote or allow voters to approve it during the next election. Any initiatives that go to the ballot will be voted on November 4, 2014.

The ballot initiative petitions were collected over the course of three months by the grassroots coalition that successfully advanced similar laws in Jersey City and Newark. Its members include New Jersey Working Families, New Jersey Citizen Action, the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition, New Jersey Communities United, as well as the SEIU 32BJ and CWA labor unions.

"This is an unprecedented grassroots campaign to bring earned sick days laws to a diverse set of communities in New Jersey," said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Director of Organizing and Strategic Program Development, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action and spokesperson for the statewide Time to Care Coalition. "It positions New Jersey as a leader in the fight for this common-sense policy, and it builds unstoppable momentum for a statewide bill that will cover the 1.2 million New Jerseyans who can't earn a single sick day."

State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) announced on Wednesday that the Assembly will begin considering earned sick leave legislation in September, beginning the push to require earned sick leave for workers in the state.

"We've been working with Working Families on helping to get this initiaitive on the ballot," said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who helped secure passage of the first earned sick leave ordinance in New Jersey in his city. "This law shows that you can promote business and economic development while still pursuing compassionate policies."

All ordinances are closely modeled on legislation signed by former Newark Mayor Luis Quintana in January. The ordinances allow private-sector workers to earn 1 hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Those that work in businesses with 10 or more employees can earn 5 paid sick days per year; workers in businesses with nine or fewer employees would be eligible to earn 3 paid sick days per year. In addition, employees directly in contact with the public, such as food service and daycare workers would be eligible to earn 5 sick days regardless of company size. The days can be used to care for themselves or for sick children, siblings, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.

"In our organizing we've found that workplace policies like earned sick days are at the top of community members concerns, and that's reflected in the massive support for the proposals in participating cities and around the state," said Trina Scordo, executive director of New Jersey Communities United.

More than 83 percent of New Jerseyans support earned sick days laws, according to a poll conducted by Rutgers Eagleton and the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, and more than 20 New Jersey economists went on the record last year to say that earned sick days laws actually strengthen local economies. Studies of earned sick days laws passed in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Connecticut showed no negative impact from earned sick days on local economies.

"Research shows that earned sick days keep working families and local economies healthy," said Karen White, Director of the Working Families Program at the Rutgers Center for Women and Work. "Businesses lose more through workers coming to work sick than they do through people staying home to take care of themselves or family members when illness strikes. Workers are more productive and employers see less turnover."

At a May White House Forum on Working Families in Washington, D.C., U.S. President Barack Obama endorsed efforts to pass laws that improve work-family balance on the municipal level.

"If Congress will not act, we're going to need mayors to act. We'll need governors and state legislators to act," Obama said.

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