By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Raven Harris says she often must choose between earning a paycheck or taking time off to care for her child with special needs.
“No, I don’t get sick days, I don’t get sick pay. I have to take a lot of days off because I have a special needs child and the days that I miss are just the days that I miss,” Harris explained.
She’s not alone. An estimated 1 million workers in New Jersey do not earn paid sick days. That hurts the most vulnerable people says Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. That’s why he’s proposing an earned sick time bill.
“It will ensure a safety net that people won’t lose their job if God forbid they or their children get sick,” Fulop said.
The bill provides workers employed by businesses with 10 or more employees to earn up to five paid sick days per year to care for themselves or their family. Employees of businesses with nine workers or less would accrue five unpaid days. Among the supporters applauding this proposal is Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, the executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, who says this is both a moral and public health issue.
“We don’t want to send people to work who are sick. We don’t want them waiting us, we don’t want them coughing on us. It has had economical benefits to businesses by retaining employees, by having employees happier and more productive,” Salowe-Kaye said.
Maria Nieves, the president and CEO of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce, says the bill has good intentions but some small business owners may not be able to afford it.
“It’s going to incur costs for them. … My biggest concern is how it lessens flexibility for employers,” Nieves said.
Flexibility to juggle limited resources.
“When you start to pile on a lot of mandates and requirements, they lose a lot of that flexibility. And what ends up happening is that they will simply start to cut back on staff, they’ll pass the costs on to their consumers,” Nieves said.
“From a minimum wage employee standpoint it equates to a 15-cent increase in their salary. That’s 1-5. So it’s virtually nothing. It equates to a 2 percent increase in cost — virtually nothing,” Fulop said.
Mayor Fulop says studies done in Connecticut and in cities with similar earned sick time legislation show the policy did not have a negative impact on productivity. And he’s confident the city’s updated tax abatement programs and other pro-business initiatives will continue to attract new businesses.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth, we’ve seen tremendous wealth coming into the city. At the same time you want to protect the working families. This is one of those pieces of legislation that will do that,” Fulop said.
Mayor Fulop’s bill does not include exemptions for manufacturers unlike sick paid leave legislation in Connecticut and New York City. He plans to introduce the bill to city council next week.