Insider NJ

As New Jersey Re-Opens, Senator Weinberg, Workers And Advocates Call For COVID-19 Upgrade To State Earned Sick Day Law

Insider NJ — May 20, 2020

Trenton — State Senator Loretta Weinberg today joined advocates, workers and policy experts from the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition for a Zoom press conference calling on lawmakers to support S2453, a bill strengthening and expanding New Jersey's Earned Sick and Safe Days law. With New Jersey gradually re-opening some businesses and planning to reopen beaches following weeks of pandemic lockdown, it becomes imperative that workers have the paid sick leave they need to stay home to care for themselves, their loved ones and prevent the further spread of contagion.

The current law provides a base number of only five earned sick days and has other burdensome rules that make accessing the time difficult. In the midst of a pandemic in which the minimum recommended quarantine period is two weeks, five days is insufficient. The recently passed federal Family First Coronavirus Act provided 10 emergency paid leave days but also carved out approximately 2 million New Jerseyans who work in healthcare and at any businesses with more than 500 employees. For many weeks, essential and frontline workers have risked their lives daily to perform their duties and keep their jobs, and many more workers will do so as the state gradually re-opens.

"New Jersey's Earned Sick Leave law was a great achievement for workers who previously had no paid sick time," said Yarrow Willman-Cole, New Jersey Citizen Action Workplace Justice Program Director and convener of the Time to Care Coalition. "But in this pandemic it does not provide enough accessible paid leave to properly protect workers, in particular essential, low-wage workers in grocery stores, box stores, warehouses, and in healthcare. These workers exposed to their co-workers, a large number of customers and patients should be able to afford to take time off if they get sick. The NJ Earned Sick Leave law also carves out all per-diem health care workers, who are a vital part of the frontline fight against COVID-19. If we are to beat this pandemic and safely re-open New Jersey, we need to ensure our earned sick day law protects workers from having to choose between a paycheck and putting their lives and the lives of their co-workers and families at risk. We applaud Senator Weinberg for championing this vital legislation."

"This legislation would provide necessary protections to the essential workers we have all relied on these past months," said Senator Weinberg. "It is hypocritical to ask workers who have been exposed to the coronavirus to self-isolate for 14 days while only providing them a maximum of 5 sick days off work. It is unsafe to compel these workers to return to the job prior to the end of the 14 day period. We are forcing these workers to choose between protecting our health or protecting their jobs. This is not a choice anyone in New Jersey should be forced to make."

A growing chorus of organizations are calling for the State Legislature to advance S2453 as soon as possible. The legislation would primarily:

"Giving workers more of the paid sick days they need to take care of themselves or family members at a time that it can make such a vital difference is not just the humane thing to do, said Kevin Brown, Vice President and NJ State Director, SEIU 32BJ. "It is necessary to keeping New Jersey families safe at this trying time. Having our state approve a law to give workers the ability to earn more paid sick days, have 15 emergency days if they need them, and to be able to use accrued sick leave without a burdensome 120-day wait period, will go a long way to setting the conditions that will let us safely re-open our state."

"The reality is that we, the workers, are the ones who allow for the company, and therefore the economy, to continue working," said Lucia Aguilar, of the Wind of the Spirit collective who works cleaning buildings and got sick with COVID-19 while only having three paid sick days. "The state needs to establish a greater number of paid sick days in order to recover and employers must be more understanding with workers — not all of us have the privilege of staying home."

"I am a nurse, working to support my community at Bayonne Medical Center," said Chris Crimaldi, a per diem nurse excluded from both the state Earned Sick Leave law and the federal Emergency Paid Sick Days. "My work requires that I take risks and expose myself to this infectious, deadly virus, but yet I am not eligible for paid sick time, I ended up getting sick with the virus and I was unable to work for eight days in quarantine and the whole time was unpaid time off. I should be able to count on emergency paid sick days, it is the right thing for state law makers to do."

"As a food production worker and now as someone who packages vegetables in Newark, I have seen firsthand how important it is for warehouse and food production workers to be healthy when they go to work. In the beginning of the pandemic, so many of my co-workers were sick," said Mijael Ramos, member of Make the Road NJ. "We weren't given paid sick days even though that is the law. It took workers at least 2 weeks to recover, and that is time they cannot afford to not get paid. Workers have expenses too, and when they get sick, our state and our employers should back us up. Passing 15 paid sick days in public health emergencies is what we need!"

"I am a warehouse worker and I was hospitalized with COVID-19," said Alejandro Mateo, member of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU. "During this pandemic all essential workers, including warehouse workers, need sufficient paid sick leave. This law proposed by Senator Loretta Weinberg, S2453, will provide the protection that essential workers like me need. It's time to approve this law."

Advocates noted that while passing S2453 would be an important step forward in upgrading earned sick days during the pandemic, more work was needed as New Jersey continues to re-open. Senator Weinberg is also the sponsor of bill S2454, which would strengthen workers' right to leave an unsafe workplace and remain eligible for unemployment under the "good cause" law.

"For New Jersey to safely re-open fully we need to ensure workers can work in safe workplaces, have access to paid sick days if they should need, and that protective laws and policies are effectively enforced," said Willman-Cole. "We look forward to working further with our State Legislature and elected officials to ensure we can keep our state residents free from contagion, and that a New Jersey recovery is a recovery for all."

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The New Jersey Time to Care (TTC) Coalition works to promote equitable access to earned sick and safe days and paid family & medical leave. We advocate for paid leave and other policies that support working families and their ability to care for themselves and their loved ones.

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