New Jersey has been a leader in providing sick leave for workers, with five days accrued for workers in a pre-pandemic world. But, with COVID-19 quarantines averaging 14 days, supporters of a new bill sponsored by Sen. Loretta Weinberg say that number needs to be increased to match medical demands.
During a Zoom press conference Wednesday, Weinberg was joined by a number of workers, some of whom were affected by the virus.
“When the federal government took action to provide workers with additional paid sick days, 58% of workers in New Jersey were actually cut out of that law. So, folks that are working currently at grocery stores, warehouses, places like that are actually not covered by the federal law. But we have the state law, which is … a great opportunity to just improve and make sure that all workers can access the emergency paid sick days, especially during the pandemic,” said Yarrow Willman-Cole, workplace justice program director for New Jersey Citizen Action.
Weinberg’s bill would cover workers not included in the federal law for up to 15 days of doctor-ordered quarantine during a health emergency. It also would add two sick days on top of the five already allowed by state law, and an additional two days for bereavement. The bill would also get rid of the 120-day waiting period for workers to start collecting on those days.
“Workers health is public health. This isn’t about workers trying to take extra money or take extra time off. I mean research has shown that workers don’t take extra time if they have paid sick days under the law. They actually save it for when they need it,” Willman-Cole said.
“Essential workers include all the people that actually keep our society moving forward and out of chaos,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen). “So this seems to me to be the barest of essentials that we can do to help protect these ‘essential’ workers, not only to keep them on the job and keep our society moving forward but to keep them safe and to keep their families safe.”
Joshua Daniels, who works at a drugstore chain in Red Bank and is at high risk for contracting COVID-19, said every day for him is a case of Russian Roulette.
“If I were to get sick now, that’s a liability. The people in my household, we would all be homeless. Retail workers, like myself, we need emergency sick pay for financial stability and reassurance,” Daniels said.
Business leaders are wary of any law that affects their bottom line, and this one is no exception. The New Jersey Business & Industry Association said it will take a look at the bill but suggested that state and federal laws already provide adequate worker protections. No committee meetings have been scheduled to hear the bill yet.