Biz Groups Sue To Stop Trenton Paid Sick Leave Law

The Record ( — Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Staff Writer | The Record

Six of New Jersey's largest business groups filed suit Monday to stop Trenton from implementing a local law requiring businesses to give workers paid sick leave, as legislators continue to work on a similar statewide law.

The suit, filed in Superior Court in Mercer County, seeks a restraining order to prevent the ordinance from going into effect Wednesday. It was approved Nov. 4.

The ordinance was one of eight enacted over the past two years in some of the state's largest municipalities, among them Paterson and Passaic, pushed by a coalition of anti-poverty groups, unions and others.

The groups sought to create momentum for approval of a statewide law, but the bill, approved by two Assembly committees, is still pending, and has not moved in the Senate.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, the bill's Senate sponsor, said lawmakers are discussing possible amendments, such as whether the statewide law should supersede local laws. She said the Assembly is taking the lead, and once the bill is approved there, it will move in the Senate, where Senate President Steven Sweeney is "absolutely" committed to passing it when the issues are resolved, she said.

Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Camden, the Assembly sponsor, said another issue is whether freelance workers or consultants would be eligible to get sick time.

The lawsuit filed by the business groups — The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, The New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Food Council, New Jersey Restaurant Association, New Jersey Retail Merchants Association and the state branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses — argues that Trenton doesn't have the legal authority to enact a paid sick leave law.

The lawsuit claims that various state laws address the issue of time off for workers — such as those offering paid leave to care for loved ones, and in cases of temporary disability — and that those "preempt", or over-ride, a municipal ordinance. The suit also claims the ordinance is too vague to be legally binding.

Christopher Gibson, a Haddonfield attorney representing the business groups, said "Trenton's mandatory paid sick leave ordinance is vague, ambiguous, and contrary to New Jersey law and impossible to interpret, administer or implement."

"If we were to prevail I think that would question the legality of these other ordinances," he said.

Supporters of the paid sick leave laws say that 1.1 million people in the state are unable to take paid sick leave. They argue that the laws help workers and prevent the spread of ailments because they allow employees to stay at home when they are sick.

Opponents say the laws are an extra burden for businesses, and are inflexible, and so hurt the ability of owners to run their companies.

Under the Trenton ordinance, roughly the same as the other city laws, workers would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employers with fewer than 10 workers have to provide a maximum of 24 hours of sick time per worker a year, and those with 10 must provide no more than 40 hours of paid sick time a year.

Michael Walker, a spokesman for Trenton, said the city could not comment on pending litigation.

"Trenton voters demanded that Ordinance No. 14-45 become law, and the city is preparing to enforce it," he said.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of NJ Citizen Action, a citizen watchdog coalition, called the suit "nothing more than an attempt to subvert the democratic process."

"It's totally outrageous that the business lobby would argue that a statewide earned sick time law should take precedence while at the same time doggedly resisting passage of that very statewide bill," she said.

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