The Montclair Times

Montclair NAACP Official James Harris Joins Trenton Sick Leave Rally

The Montclair Times — Thursday, April 16, 2015

By Andrew Segedin
Staff Writer
The Montclair Times

From left, Dena Mattola Jaborska of New Jersey Citizen Action, Okemfe Lebarty of New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey State NAACP President Richard smith, League of Women Voters of New Jersey Executive Director Kerry Butch and Montclair NAACP First Vice President James Harris congregate at the league headquarters in Trenton for a rally in support of Trenton's sick leave ordinance. – Photo Courtesy of Jesse Burns

Activists supporting earned, paid sick time in New Jersey rallied in Trenton last Thursday, April 9, to support the city's municipal ordinance, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed by multiple groups, including the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

Trenton residents, like their Montclair counterparts, had approved a municipal ordinance via public referendum in November. The ordinances allow for private-sector employees in the municipalities to accumulate sick time based on hours worked.

In response to the lawsuit, which will be heard in Superior Court today, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, New Jersey NAACP and the Institute of Social Justice organized the rally in support of Trenton's ordinance.

James Harris, first vice president of the Montclair NAACP and chair of the education taskforce for the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, told The Montclair Times that he attended and spoke at the rally, describing the atmosphere as "very positive."

Harris said that he was compelled to attend the rally given the Montclair NAACP's support for Montclair's ordinance and desire to see a state-wide law. Harris opined that the lawsuit was filed out of greed and lack of concern for low-income and working-class individuals and asserted that there is no evidence that the existing eight municipal ordinances in the state have had an adverse impact on businesses.

The ordinances and lawsuit also have racial and gender connotations, according to Harris.

"I believe, and I said this at the press conference, that there are racial implications," Harris said. "Minimum wage jobs are largely held by minorities and women."

Using the example of a worker who makes $10 per hour, above the state minimum wage, Harris said that being able to find an apartment and afford food in Montclair on a $400 a week salary is already a struggle. If that same worker were to miss a day and not have earned sick time, that $80 could have large consequences, Harris said.

"It's a very serious thing," Harris said. "I'm sick, but I can't miss work because I can't pay rent or buy food."

Kerry Butch, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, stated to The Montclair Times that the league has worked to pass municipal earned sick time ordinances and a prospective state law. Citing a recent study conducted by the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, Butch stated that existing earned sick leave ordinances such as the one in Jersey City have benefited workers and businesses alike.

"As a good-government organization, the league thinks it is important to advocate and speak out for this good public policy than an overwhelming number of Trenton voters approved in November," Butch stated.

The league has testified in favor of a statewide sick leave law and is working to educate the public on the benefits of such a law, Butch stated.

Butch noted that the league is hopeful that today's court proceedings will uphold Trenton's ordinance. There is no certainty as to what would happen in municipalities with similar ordinances such as Montclair if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Butch stated.

During the Montclair Township Council's March 10 meeting, BlueWave NJ President Marcia Marley and New Jersey Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia, both of whom led the way for Montclair's ordinance, requested that the council consider filing an amicus brief in support of Trenton.

Township Attorney Ira Karasick told The Montclair Times that no such brief was filed and that he was not closely monitoring the Trenton lawsuit.

Karasick said that the Health Department, not his office, has been in charge of administering the municipal ordinance.

Tom Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, told The Montclair Times that the parties involved in the lawsuit have not yet discussed future actions, as the Trenton case is not yet completed. After a decision is made in Trenton, the group will take future steps one at a time, Bracken said.

Bracken said that he did not see the need for sick leave ordinances in New Jersey.

"It's totally unnecessary," Bracken said of the earned sick time ordinance. "The vast majority of companies in New Jersey already provide this. It becomes redundant. It shows governmental mandates on business and makes the state less competitive."

Should a state law come into place, concerns about making New Jersey less competitive will be compounded, Bracken said. Believing that New Jersey needs to create more jobs, Bracken said that a law would undermine that.

"The perceived positives are already, for the most part, in place," Bracken said. "We don't see any need to pile onto a positive when the net outcome will be a negative ... To be competitive, you want to have less mandates, not more mandates, especially for things that should be in company management's purview."

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