Passaic Becomes Third N.J. City To Force Employers To Provide Paid Sick Time

The Record ( — Thursday, September 4, 2014

Staff Writer
The Record

PASSAIC — Responding to pressure from a grass-roots coalition, the city became the third in New Jersey to adopt an ordinance requiring all businesses to offer paid sick leave to employees.

Over the objections of some business leaders, the City Council approved the measure 7-0. The law takes effect in January.

Passaic joined Jersey City and Newark in requiring its businesses to offer the benefit.

An identical ordinance is expected to be voted on next week by the Paterson City Council.

"Thanks to the courage and vision of Mayor [Alex] Blanco and the Passaic Council, this city will be a fairer place to live and work, while the campaign to bring earned sick days statewide gets another shot in the arm," declared Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, a coalition of labor and progressive groups that sponsored the ordinance.

The primary goal of the ordinance is to help low-wage workers, many of them clustered in food service retail and home health care jobs, to gain paid sick days, both as an issue of fairness and as way to keep communicable illnesses from spreading.

The coalition wants the state Legislature to pass a bill making paid sick leave mandatory. Until then, the coalition's strategy is to have ordinances adopted at the municipal level.

"Passaic's working families no longer have to fear that a bout of the flu or a sick child will spell job loss or mounting debt," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, the executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action and spokeswoman for NJ Time to Care Coalition, which is leading the statewide initiative. "Even better, giving workers and families this basic economic security will help keep Passaic's economy, families and communities healthy."

The ordinance applies to all companies in Passaic, from the supermarket that employs hundreds to the bodega on the corner. Full-time and part-time workers are eligible for the benefit.

Under the ordinance, an employee accrues one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked during a calendar year. Companies with fewer than 10 employees would be allowed to cap sick time at 24 hours per employee, which works out to three full days.

Businesses with more than 10 employees must provide at least 40 hours of sick leave per year, which is equal to five full days. Companies with more would have to provide 40 hours of sick leave.

Workers could use the time to care for themselves or to care for ill family members. Employers would be required to maintain records of their employees' sick time, which would be subject to inspection by the city's Department of Health.

The Passaic Council voted to adopt the ordinance after much deliberation. Clifford Lindholm III, a business owner and chairman of the Passaic Urban Enterprise Zone, warned that the city would be at a competitive disadvantage when trying to attract new companies.

"This will create an environment in which businesses will not feel welcome in Passaic," Lindholm argued. "Please don't place another mandate, and another burden, on businesses."

Board of Education President Byron Bustos testified in favor of the ordinance, in part because it protects healthy people by encouraging sick workers to stay home.

Bustos pointed out that some cafeteria workers in the Passaic school district don't get sick days and said that puts children at risk. He said that policy should change.

Passaic Councilman Chaim Munk questioned whether government should be injecting itself into an issue of employee benefits, which typically is left to management and labor to decide. He asked whether the city could enforce the measure once it was on the books.

Still, council members didn't have the power to simply defeat the ordinance because it was brought before them by a citizen initiative, a little-used tactic in which legislation is crafted by an interest group and then advanced by way of a petition drive.

New Jersey Working Families wrote the legislation and then collected the necessary 715 signatures from registered Passaic voters that effectively forced the council to introduce it.

Had the council rejected the ordinance, it would have been placed on the November ballot to let the voters decide in a referendum. Approval would require a simple majority.

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