Passaic Council Introduces Measure Requiring All Employers To Provide Paid Sick Leave

The Record ( — Monday, August 19, 2014

Staff Writer
The Record

PASSAIC — The city council on Tuesday introduced an ordinance to require all private-sector employers to provide their workers with paid sick leave.

The bill, which is being pushed by a coalition of progressive groups, including the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and New Jersey Citizen Action, would make it mandatory for just about every private-sector business in Passaic to offer paid sick days to their employees, no matter how large or small the company. The legislation applies equally to big companies, like supermarkets, as well as the mom-and-pop bodega on the corner.

Although the council appeared concerned that the bill would be bad for business, it voted 7 to 0 to introduce the legislation and set a public hearing for Sept. 2. City Council President Gary S. Schaer said afterward that he supported the bill, but he was concerned, as were some of his colleagues, that making sick pay mandatory in Passaic could dissuade businesses from coming to the city. Schaer said the issue of offering paid sick leave for low-wage workers is a state issue that should be resolved by the New Jersey Legislature, not municipal government.

"My concern is what happens if Passaic offers it and say Clifton doesn't," Schaer said.

Supporters of the legislation appeared before the city council last night and attempted to allay those fears. Among the speakers was Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, the longtime head of New Jersey Citizen Action, a powerful lobby, and Jared Make, an attorney with A Better Balance, a New York-based advocacy group that supports progressive policies for working people.

Make told the council that bills giving paid sick leave to low-wage workers have been adopted all over the country, in large cities, like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Washington, D.C., and closer to home, in Jersey City and Newark. Make said that rather than being bad for business, the data show the sick-leave benefit does not hinder job growth.

He cited San Francisco, which adopted paid sick leave for all workers in 2006. From 2006 through 2010, Make said the number of jobs in the low-wage restaurant industry grew by 4.8 percent.

"The research shows that the legislation works very well," Make said.

If adopted, the legislation would enable full- and part-time employees to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked during the calendar year. Workers could use the sick time to care for themselves, or to care for family members if they fell ill.

Employers with fewer than 10 employees would be allowed to cap sick time at 24 hours per employee; companies that had more than 10 workers would have to provide 40 hours of sick leave. Employers would be required to maintain records of their employees' sick time that would be subject to inspection by the state Department of Human Services, Division of Health.

The legislation was also brought before the Paterson City Council on Tuesday night. Both Jersey City and Newark adopted it earlier this year.

Analilia Mejia, the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said the bill aims to address inequality in the low-wage businesses — like food service, retail and elder care — that provide a lot of jobs in urban areas. These workplaces typically don't offer their employees paid sick time. The alliance estimates that 40 percent of American workers don't earn paid sick days.

Mejia said workers who don't get paid sick days tend to come to work when they're ill, which can spread disease. That's dangerous in the food service, retail, and elder-care sectors, where workers are in close contact with customers and clients, she said.

"Business owners who offer paid sick days have more productive workers and less turnover," she said. "And they don't have to worry about making their customers sick."

Passaic was once a mighty industrial city where factories were the primary employer and workers were usually covered by union contracts with sick days as part of the benefits package. But those days are gone, and the private-sector economy nowadays is mostly made up of small retail stores, many of them family businesses.

Passaic also has a large population of undocumented residents, many of whom work "under the table" in restaurants, bars, and stores downtown. Most of these retail establishments employ small work forces that change frequently; most business owners interviewed on Tuesday felt the law would have little impact.

"If it's the law, and every other business had to do it, then of course, I would too," said Dino Papafagos, who owns the Oasis Restaurant on Main Avenue. "But I would want to see a doctor's note."

Jeffrey Simms, an attorney whose office is on Passaic Street near City Hall, agreed with the intent of the bill, but suggested that it could hurt small businesses, like sandwich shops, and would be hard to enforce. "It sounds a bit like over-legislation," he said. Simms said he had one employee, his receptionist, who he already pays for sick days.

"It sounds like this could be pleasing the masses but not necessarily looking at the big picture," he said.

Hamilton Mussenden, the owner of RC Hardware and Plumbing on Broadway, said he has four employees, one of whom is his mother, who keeps the books. Mussenden said he already offers paid sick days, and thinks it's a good policy because it attracts higher quality workers.

"No matter how small the company is, I think it's more fair if everybody has to do it," he said.

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