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Business groups gear up for fight on paid sick leave in Trenton

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Business groups that have been battling measures to block mandatory paid sick leave will have to turn their attention to the statewide skirmish, following the passage Wednesday night of such a bill by the Jersey City council.

Mayor Steven Fulop is expected to soon sign the bill, which will make the city the first in the state — and only the sixth in the nation — to make paid sick leave mandatory.

"It is great for Jersey City," Fulop said in an interview. "The opportunity for Jersey City to be a model is the most exciting component of this."

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association sent a letter to Fulop earlier this week, urging him to study the possible effects of mandating paid sick leave before passing the bill. The version of the Jersey City legislation that passed Wednesday night calls for a study to be done on the effectiveness of paid sick leave a year after the law goes into effect.

And Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said she plans to continue to fight before the state legislature.

"We don't believe government should be involved in this type of decision for small businesses," Ehlbeck said.

"Sometimes businesses are running so tight that they can't afford to offer this type of benefit," she said. "They're not immune to the fact that people suffer and people are sick, but if they could be flexible and they could work on an employee-by-employee basis, it would be more productive."

Ehlbeck and other industry leaders are now focused on a similar piece of legislation in Trenton, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees).

Ehlbeck said her organization is in the process of researching the economic impact of paid sick leave in New Jersey.

"Any time it costs a business more in payroll or to run their business, they only have a couple choices: One is to raise the cost of their product or service," Ehlbeck said. "And the other choice is to give their employees fewer hours or reduce their workforce. So it's not a winning situation."

"There's only so much money that a business has to spend on workforce," she said. "There's not a money tree in the backyard, unfortunately."

But Fulop said the business owners who attended the city council meeting last night were split, with half speaking out in favor of the bill and the other half criticizing it.

"When you look at other cities around the country that have done this, pushback has been similar," Fulop said. "And then when they look back after some time of implementation, those businesses realized that what they thought would be the outcome, wasn't the outcome."

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