By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
A decade after New Jersey enacted paid family leave for family emergencies, a coalition of women’s groups is now rallying for the right of all employees to earn paid sick days off.
U.S. Senate candidate and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver headlined the Statehouse news conference today.
Leticia Ramirez has worked at a Wendy’s for six years. If she gets sick or needs a day off for a doctor’s appointment, Wendy’s does not pay her.
“In 2008 or 2009 her daughter was in the hospital for five days and she had to miss work, so she didn’t get paid for those days. For about three days? She missed three days of work,” Ramirez said through a translator.
A bill in the legislature would require all employers in New Jersey — public and private — to enable their workers to earn paid sick days.
The bill by Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt and Sen. Loretta Weinberg has attracted a coalition of women supporters, who say women are most likely to hold the low-wage jobs that come with no paid time off even for illness.
The supporters say it would be good for everyone.
“And we do know everybody benefits when they get time off if they’re sick. No one wants to go into a restaurant and be served by wait staff who is sneezing in your linguini,” said Phyllis Sallowe-Kaye, New Jersey Citizen Action executive director.
The bill would allow employees of small businesses to earn up to five paid sick days per year; nine days per year for businesses with more than 10 workers.
“You cannot imagine the pressure when you are an hourly worker and when you are barely able to make ends meet if you make all your hours to struggle with the decision when you’re sick whether to come in or not,” said Deborah Jacobs of the Ms. Foundation for Women.
Lack of paid sick days falls heaviest on African-American and Latino women, they said.
“What makes this so discriminatory is the fact that those who are at the higher echelon in different types of occupations have the ability to place a phone call and say, ‘I’m not feeling well today. I won’t be in. I’ll see you tomorrow,’ and when they get paid there has been nothing deducted from their paycheck,” Oliver said.
Noting that most employers provide paid sick leave, Melanie Willoughby of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said, “The proposed legislation would hit small businesses the hardest … and if enacted would be another mandate on New Jersey businesses that their competitors in most other states do not have to contend with.”
Only Connecticut and a handful of cities have paid sick time laws. Advocates call it the next logical step in humanizing the workplace. Opponents call it the next government intrusion into their businesses.