Editorial: Sick Pay Consequences

The Record ( — Friday, September 5, 2014

Opinion: Editorial

THE BUSINESS climate in Passaic, and with it the city's ability to attract ratables to help absorb the cost of its operating expenses, took a turn for the worse this week when the city council voted, 7-0, to adopt an ordinance requiring all businesses to offer paid sick leave to employees.

We are sympathetic to people who work jobs where they do not receive paid sick days, yet we are also sympathetic to employers and owners of the small bodega or the corner deli, where profit margins are slim or non-existent.

The council was put under tremendous pressure to adopt the ordinance, including an all-out blitz from labor advocates for low-wage workers. As The Record reported, a coalition of these advocates wants the Legislature to pass a bill making paid sick leave mandatory. Meanwhile, the coalition is also pushing the idea at the municipal level.

Passaic joined Jersey City and Newark in requiring its businesses to offer the benefit. A similar ordinance almost certainly will be passed next week in Paterson.

"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 a spokeswoman for NJ Time to Care Coalition, which is leading the statewide initiative.

Let's not confuse these municipal sick-pay ordinances with the national push by some fast-food workers employed by major chains and others to seek a higher minimum wage. The Passaic ordinance will hit hardest those small businesses already struggling to survive.

Under the Passaic 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.

As Staff Writer Richard Cowen reported, the ordinance was brought by a citizen initiative backed by way of a petition drive, which in Passaic's case was advanced by New Jersey Working Families after the collection of 715 signatures from registered Passaic voters. Had the council voted to reject the ordinance, it would have been placed on the November ballot to be decided by referendum.

As well-intentioned as the sick-pay ordinance may be, it is ill-conceived public policy, especially in cities such as Passaic and Paterson, where small businesses struggle mightily to make ends meet and where employers will now find themselves handcuffed by one more shortsighted local initiative.

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