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Newark set to hold final vote on paid sick-leave ordinance Wednesday

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In a move that could potentially have repercussions for like-minded legislation across the state, Newark City Council will hold a final vote on its mandatory paid sick-leave ordinance Wednesday night.

The ordinance is currently listed on the council's agenda for the 6:30 p.m. meeting and is slated for final passage if it receives the corresponding votes. If passed, Newark would join Jersey City as one of only two municipalities in New Jersey to enact mandatory sick-leave legislation.

Under the ordinance, full- and part-time employees would be able to earn up to one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. There is a 40-hour per year cap for businesses with 10 or more employees or those that offer child care, food service or direct care. Businesses with nine or fewer employees will only be required to offer workers at least 24 hours of sick pay per year.

Business groups have been vocal in their opposition to the measure, saying it will significantly raise employers' costs and add another unwanted layer of regulation.

Stefanie Riehl, an assistant vice president with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said that on the surface, the ordinance is "very well intentioned" and it makes sense why elected officials are pushing for it.

But that doesn't mean it's practical, she says. For instance, if a worker takes a paid sick day, an employer is still going to have to pay someone else to take his or her place and essentially, will be tasked with paying a double wage.

"In theory, yes we understand the reason but practically speaking, it's going to be difficult for businesses," Riehl said.

And as other members of the business community have also pointed out, Riehl said it's not just paid sick-leave legislation that is being dealt with singularly as employers must also concern themselves with an upcoming hike in the minimum wage and the continued rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

"There's a lot that's converging at once," Riehl said.

If Newark votes to adopt the ordinance, all eyes will shift toward Trenton, where a statewide bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Voorhees) was introduced last spring.

New Jersey Citizen Action director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, a proponent of the measure, says that as it's currently drafted and ready for passage, Newark's ordinance is "one of the strongest" in the country. So whatever comes forth at the state level, Salowe-Kaye says it must be "at least as good if not better than the Newark ordinance."

Adding to that wish list is coming up with something Gov. Chris Christie will actually sign, she said.

"In terms of the state bill, Newark has set the bar at this point," Salowe-Kaye said.

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