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In Jersey City, business owner says paid sick-leave law is how things should be done

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Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop at today's sick-leave signing.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop at today's sick-leave signing. - (Andrew George / NJBIZ)

Statewide business groups in opposition to Jersey City's mandatory paid sick leave legislation have long said its regulatory nature will ultimately hurt small business.

But that notion's lost on Steven Kalcanides, owner of Helen's Pizza, on Newark Avenue, where mayor Steven Fulop signed the bill this morning. Kalcanides said he doesn't think the new ordinance will be crippling to small businesses.

"I don't see it as being the straw that breaks the camel's back on a business," Kalcanides said.

The new law is just an affirmation of how things should already be done, Kalcanides says.

"My business is like my family," Kalcanides said. "Everybody that works for me is like family."

Under the measure, employees will earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a cap at 40 hours per year. Workers can begin earning sick time upon their hiring, but must work for 90 days before being able to use it. Employers will not be required to pay for any unused sick time.

Kalcanides said he's seen from his own experience of offering employees paid compensation time that he's been able to effectively retain employees. Many of his workers have been with him for five years or more, he said.

"As far as I know, it's been working for me," he said.

With today's signing, Jersey City becomes the first city in the state to do so, and joins the ranks of several cities nationwide that have enacted similar ordinances, such as San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.

Fulop today reiterated how he felt the legislation was a matter of human dignity, noting that it was "the right thing to do." He said that the new law will serve to bridge the gap between the city's various communities.

"I really view this legislation as an important step in that direction," Fulop said.

The hope, Fulop says, is that Trenton — and eventually, Washington — will take notice. Jersey City, he added, "is a model in a lot of ways for what's possible in the state of New Jersey."

Council President Rolando Lavarro echoed Fulop's intentions.

"Hopefully with this bill signing today, it reverberates in the halls of Trenton," Lavarro said.

In a letter addressed to Fulop last month, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association criticized the move, urging the mayor to study the possible effects before passing it.

"While we understand the desire to help workers, we feel that this ordinance will have a negative impact on both large and small employers," Stefanie Riehl, an NJBIA assistant vice president, wrote last month. "Given the potential for unintended consequences, we suggest that a comprehensive study be undertaken prior to implementation (as opposed to one year following implementation). Otherwise, we believe the proposal could compromise the economic engine that Jersey City has become and hurt the very people it intends to help."

Business groups also are preparing themselves to battle a similar measure at the state level, introduced in the Assembly last spring by Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees).

Gordon MacInnes, president of liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, called today's signing a "huge first step" for New Jersey.

"We applaud Mayor Fulop for signing this ordinance into law and for pushing this crucial issue to the forefront in New Jersey," MacInnes said in a statement. "We urge state legislators to follow the mayor's lead and pass a statewide earned sick days bill so all of the 1.2 million New Jerseyans who lack this benefit no longer have to choose between getting paid and getting well."

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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