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Newark City Council Nears Vote on Paid Sick-Time Ordinance

The Institute for Women’s Research, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, issued a report Wednesday that estimated that the Newark ordinance would require employers to pay about $8.5 million in sick-time to employees, but that it could yield about $13 million annually in savings from reduced employee turnover, along with $1.1 million in health-cost savings to employees and about $1 million to the community at large in savings on emergency room and charity-care costs.

Analilia Mejia, an organizer with SEIU 32BJ, a union representing low-wage service workers, said the population most likely to be helped by earned sick time is the most vulnerable workers. They are “not only making poverty wages,” she said, they find themselves “in a situation in which they can’t so much as take a day off to care for themselves or a sick child or a sick parent or a grandparent because it means them not making ends meet that month or losing the tenuous grasp they have on their livelihood.”

SEIU 32BJ is part of the NJ Time to Care coalition, which includes other unions and organizations either representing or working on behalf of low-wage employees.

“Losing a day’s work or losing a day’s pay” for a low-wage worker, Mejia said, “can mean less food on the table, not making rent, or not being able to afford the bus fare to be able to get to work. It throws everything into a tailspin.”

Michael Egenton, senior vice president for governmental relations for the NJ Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are sympathetic to the needs of workers. However, he said workplace rules like mandated sick time can harm low-wage workers by increasing business costs and leading to the elimination of jobs.

Businesses, he said, have a limited amount of resources. If they now have to pay workers who are not at work, they're likely to cut elsewhere, which could include reducing work hours or the number of employees on the payroll.

Stresses on Small Businesses

In addition, the mandated sick time in Newark and Jersey City come on top of a weak economy, an increased minimum wage and new costs associated with implementing the federal Affordable Care Act.

“The new minimum wage is a cost that businesses already have to deal with,” he said. “That is compounded by the costs of Superstorm Sandy -- some businesses are dealing with that and some are dealing with the overall economy -- and now you have mandated sick-leave proposals. That will compound what a business owner has to deal with.”

One additional concern, Egenton said, is that mandated sick time is being rolled out town by town. That pits municipalities against one other and is not an efficient way of managing public policy, he said.

“Public policy needs to be addressed at the state level and to have all the stakeholders there and have an appropriate discussion and debate on the merits,” he said. “When you do issues like that you are pitting municipality against municipality and, if a business has the ability to have mobility, if it is frustrated with any city or town and it has the ability to move to a contiguous municipality or further away or out of state, it will.”

Newark City Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., who represents the city’s North Ward, dismissed the argument. Many of the jobs that will be covered are not the kind that can be moved, he said, and the city’s businesses already must comply with local regulations with which they may not be happy.

Fulop agreed, saying that other cities that have passed sick-time rules -- San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New York, in addition to the state of Connecticut -- have not seen a negative impact economically.

“My prediction,” he said, “is that Jersey City will lead the state in job creation.”

Fulop said the issue is one of fairness, especially for low-wage workers, minorities, and women.

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