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Paid sick-leave fight headed to Newark

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Fresh off the heels of Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop putting ink to paper Monday on his city's paid sick-leave ordinance — the first of its kind in New Jersey — Newark Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. is looking to sponsor one of his own.

Similar to Jersey City's, Ramos' ordinance would allow for employees to earn up to one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Under the ordinance, there would be a cap at 40 hours per year for businesses with 10 or more employees, or ones that offer childcare, food service or direct care. Businesses with less than 10 employees would not be required to offer workers more than 24 hours of paid sick time per year.

Today, Ramos said he plans on introducing the legislation next week. An announcement event also is in the works. The mayor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"In Newark, there are an estimated 40,000 workers who do not get paid if they or one of their family members gets sick," Ramos said in a release. "It's not fair to force workers to choose between a paycheck and their health, or that of a family member. This is not a difficult decision."

Workers would be able to start earning paid sick time at the start of their employment, and would be able to use it after three months on the job. Though unused paid sick hours can be ushered into the next calendar year, the ordinance would not require employers to allow any more than 40 hours to be carried over.

If Newark were to pass the ordinance, the city would be the second in New Jersey to do so. Across the country, cities like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco have adopted similar measures.

"The measure will reduce the competitive disadvantage that many employers face when they choose to provide sick time to their workers," Ramos said. "It will also ensure that all workers, particularly those in key service sectors, are fully able to care for themselves and their family without risking the greater public health."

Statewide business groups have been vocal in their opposition to paid sick-leave ordinances, repeatedly saying that their regulatory nature will ultimately hurt small businesses. They are currently preparing themselves for a fight at the state level where a similar measure was introduced by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees) last spring.

Laurie Ehlbeck, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, is a strong opponent of the measure, and said she intends on working with the sponsors at the state level to find a compromise.

Ehlbeck said that while the passing of Jersey City's ordinance and the proposal of Newark's may put some pressure on the Legislature to move faster on the issue, she doesn't believe it's something that can't be defeated.

"I don't think that it necessarily makes it a slam dunk for them," Ehlbeck said.

Stefanie Riehl, an assistant vice president with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, today said while the ordinance may be rooted in good intentions, businesses may actually suffer as a result of it.

"While NJBIA has not had the opportunity to review the proposed ordinance, we remain concerned that well-intentioned proposals like this may have negative consequences," Riehl said in an email. "Where employers can afford to provide paid time off benefits, they typically will as a recruitment and retention tool. However, a forced mandate which results in additional costs to those businesses that cannot afford them could lead to reduced hours, bonuses, etc."

Riehl voiced similar opinions on Jersey City's ordinance last month, when she wrote a letter to Fulop calling for a study to be conducted on the legislation's possible effects before passing it.

Today's announcement also received praise from some civic organizations.

Bill Holland, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, applauded the proposal, and said he hopes it will translate into action in Trenton.

"The fact that New Jersey's two largest cities are both recognizing a worker's right to earn paid sick days is game-changing," Holland said in a release. "It means that the nationwide momentum we've seen on this issue has broken through to New Jersey in a big way and elected officials in Trenton and around the state should take notice."


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