Morristown Green

Pass The Linguini: Morristown's Sick Pay Law Takes Effect Jan. 11

Morristown Green — January 10, 2017

By Kevin Coughlin

You can debate the merits up, down and sideways. But the controversial sick day law that takes effect Wednesday in Morristown may boil down to this:

Linguini.

"Now Morristown families don't have to walk through town worrying that maybe the waiter sneezed in their linguini... or about what goes in that special sauce," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye of New Jersey Citizen Action, one of several advocacy groups that joined town officials at a Tuesday press conference to tout the measure.

The town council voted 6-1 last September to make Morristown the 13th municipality in New Jersey, and the first in Morris County, to require employers to give between three- and five paid sick days a year to employees who work a certain number of hours. The time also can be used to care for sick relatives.

"Morristown looks out for its businesses and its workers. This is a win-win for both," Mayor Tim Dougherty said. After 33 years as a union employee in Newark, he noted, he gets three paid sick days per year.

"Truly, this is an example of purposeful progress," said Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris, Dougherty's likely challenger in the mayoral primary. Harris said she gets six paid sick days as a teacher in the Morris School District.

The Morris County Chamber of Commerce and several business owners spoke against the ordinance at a council meeting last month, arguing that it will harm small ventures and cost jobs.

Councilwoman Alison Deeb, the lone opposing vote, said about 40 businesses signed a petition urging its delay or repeal. A patchwork of local laws will sow confusion statewide, the Chamber contends.

How the ordinance will be enforced by the town's Health Department-which contracts with the county for inspection services-also remains to be seen.

Violations could bring fines of up to $1,000, $2,000 said Craig Garcia of New Jersey Working Families, the nonprofit that drafted the ordinance and was poised to push a November referendum if the council failed to enact it swiftly. Garcia was working, despite a case of the sniffles.

The National Law Review raised questions about how Morristown's law affects businesses based outside of Morristown that have sales people, remote workers, delivery persons and others who spend at least 80 hours a year working in town.

"For example, if a Georgia-based information technology company sends a consultant to service an account in Morristown over a two-week period, that employee technically qualifies for paid sick leave under the Ordinance," the journal writes.

"Moreover, the Ordinance and FAQs do not address whether the paid sick time is portable, i.e., whether an employee who accrues paid sick leave in Morristown may use the paid sick leave in, for example, Georgia."

The Mayor said the town will set up informational sessions with businesses to work out the kinks.

Brian Lozano of Wind of the Spirit, a Morristown-based advocacy group for immigrants, said the ordinance is a godsend for his clients, who staff many of the town's restaurants.

"A lot of them are scared they will lose their jobs if they call in sick. This will make all the difference in the world," he said.

At least 4,600 workers in Morristown were without paid sick time prior to this law, said Yarrow Willman-Cole of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers.

Council President Stefan Armington and council members Hiliari Davis and Michael Elms attended the gathering.

Also speaking in favor of the measure on Tuesday were officials from the Morris County branch of the NAACP, the Morris County Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce, the Time to Care Coalition, and Marilyn Harlos, who hosted the event at her business, Wells Rug Services Inc., a company established in 1921.

"I thought everyone had paid sick leave," said Harlos, who employs 10 full-time workers. "There's no negative consequence that I can think of to take care of the people who take care of you."

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