Advocates Push for Paid Sick Days Via Ballot Question

By Briana Vannozzi

They’re preparing an all out push to spread the word before voters head to the polls in November.

“We’re going to hit the streets running. We’re going to have door-to-door canvases that knock on doors of registered voters in both Montclair and Trenton. We’re going to have phone banks with volunteers. We’re gonna do mailings. We’re gonna be at the polls on voting day,” said NJ Citizen Action Executive Director Phyllis Salowe-Kaye.

Residents in both towns will vote on a ballot question seeking to enact paid sick days for private-sector employees — one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Businesses with less than 10 employees are capped at three days per year. Those with more than 10 cap out at five days.

“We want to make sure people know this is not meant to hurt small businesses. If anything, the data shows it helps to grow small businesses. It grows and strengthens the economy from the inside out,” said Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill.

Six other municipalities have adopted similar ordinances — Jersey City, Newark, East Orange, Passaic, Paterson and most recently Irvinginton. In Montclair, workers directly in contact with the public such as food service or daycare will be eligible for five sick days regardless of company size.

“We are just saying that it is a matter of fairness, good for the economy, and very good for people’s health and the health of the customers that the businesses service,” said Montclair Deputy Mayor Bob Russo.

The ordinance in Montclair and Trenton is modeled after the one that passed in Newark. These towns were targeted for very specific reasons. They are large cities with large voting blocs. Polls show residents are largely in favor and they have the support of local advocacy groups on the ground.

“The goal is to get paid sick days for every worker. Right now we’re going to cities where we can get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of municipalities that have large numbers of workers,” said Salowe-Kaye.

So far an estimated 100,000 workers have gained coverage under the local laws. If the two ballot questions pass in November, another 20,000 workers, like Jimmy Venezia, will be added to that list.

The Assembly Labor Committee will hold a hearing for the statewide bill this Thursday. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has been vocal about making the legislation a priority this session. Advocates expect it will pass both houses, but say at this point, getting it signed by the governor is anybody’s guess.