Asbury Park Press

Paid Sick Leave Plan Advances In NJ Legislature

Asbury Park Press — Monday, October 27, 2014

By Michael Symons

TRENTON — Nearly all workers in New Jersey would be guaranteed paid sick leave if a proposal advanced this morning by legislators becomes law.

Under the bill, A2354/S785, private- and public-sector employees would accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Limits could be put on how much sick leave an employee would be allowed to carry forward from one year to the next — 40 hours, equal to five full days, at businesses with less than 10 employees, or 72 hours, equal to nine full days, at businesses with 10 or more workers.

The Assembly Labor Committee endorsed the proposal by a 6-3 vote this morning, the first of a series of approvals that would be needed for the bill to be sent to Gov. Chris Christie. The vote was along party lines, with the committee's six Democrats in support and its three Republicans opposed.

"We understand that new mandates are sometimes difficult for employers or organizations to immediately feel comfortable with, but we applaud your efforts in putting forth a very strong bill that supports workers," said New Jersey Working Families Alliance executive director Analilia Mejia.

Many of the New Jersey business groups with lobbyists in Trenton — such as the Food Council, Farm Bureau, Business and Industry Association and State Chamber of Commerce—- still oppose the bill, even after some changes were made to address a few of their concerns.

Among the changes was exempting construction employees under contract pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, not applying the bill to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement until that contract expires and defining a "benefit year" as a 12-month period set by an employer.

Danielle Cyr, New Jersey grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity, said 80 percent of small businesses fail within their first 18 months of operation, even without mandates such as paid sick leave she said smaller employers can't afford.

"Business growth inevitably leads to improved benefits and pay, but it is regulations like these that stop growth before it can begin," Cyr said.

Assembly Democrats said an estimated 1.1 million New Jerseyans work in jobs in which they are unable to earn sick leave.

Sick leave would be allowed to be used for both an employee's illnesses or for that employee to care for family members.

The bill seeks to set a minimum guarantee, but employers would be allowed to provide more generous sick-leave benefits.

Advocates for such a change have persuaded local governments in six New Jersey municipalities — East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Newark, Passaic and Paterson — to approve the change for local businesses. Voters in Montclair and Trenton are being asked to approve paid sick leave in public questions on the ballot next week. The bill taking the requirement statewide is a priority of Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson.

Christie has said he has concerns about the proposal but hasn't said what he'll do if the bill reaches his desk.

"We know that this is just the beginning of the process," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

California and Connecticut have adopted paid sick-leave laws, but the New Jersey proposal as currently crafted would provide more benefits.

The Connecticut law, which took effect in 2012, applies to businesses with at least 50 employees. The California law, which was enacted last month and takes effect next year, entitles employees to use 24 hours, or three full days, of sick time a year. Workers will be able to bank 48 hours, or six days, of sick time.

A proposal before voters in Massachusetts next week would provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year to people working at businesses with 11 or more employees. People at smaller companies would receive unpaid sick time.

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