Paid sick leave campaign gathers momentum in New Jersey

A committee of the New Jersey state Assembly on October 9  held a hearing on a bill that if enacted would extend paid sick leave to most workers in the state and make New Jersey the third state in the US to pass such legislation.

Supporters had hoped that the committee would approve the bill, A2354, and send it to the full Assembly for debate, but the committee, instead, chose to table the bill, so that it could be amended.

Nevertheless, supporters of paid sick leave said that the fact that the bill was heard in committee showed that their grassroots campaign was making progress.

“Our strategy of building momentum for a strong statewide earned sick days bill through a wave of local victories is paying off big time,” said the New Jersey Working Families Alliance website. “This Thursday, the Assembly will hold its first hearing on a bill that would cover every worker in New Jersey.”

So far six New Jersey cities–Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Irvington and East Orange–have passed city ordinances requiring paid sick leave.

Two more cities–Trenton and Montclair–on November 4 will hold votes on whether the cities should adopt paid sick leave ordinances.

The Working Families Alliance, is one of more than 100 labor, community, and religious organizations that have joined together to form the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition, which among things has been leading the local and statewide campaigns for paid sick leave.

“When workers get sick they need time to get well,” reads a purpose statement from the coalition. “It’s just common sense. But in New Jersey, some 1.2 million workers – that’s more than 1 in 3 of us – do not earn paid sick days. Many of these workers are in low-wage service jobs. They care for our children and the elderly. They prepare and serve food in our restaurants. They can’t afford to stay home, even if they’re sick. An earned sick days’ policy would boost our economy, our families, and our community.”

Members of the coalition held a media conferences on October 6 to announce a final push to win paid sick leave in Trenton and Montclair.

“We’re going to hit the streets running,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action at one of the media conferences. “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 going be at the polls on voting day.”

As a result of the work done by the Time to Care Coalition, about 100,000 New Jersey workers who didn’t have paid sick leave now do. If the paid sick leave referendum succeeds in Trenton and Montclair about 20,000 more workers will be covered.

The local ordinances in effect and the ones being voted on are similar to A2354.

The ordinances and the bill allow workers to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Workers can take sick leave when they are sick or injured or need to visit a physician or therapist to treat a mental or physical ailment or an injury.

They will also be able to take paid sick leave when a family member is ill or injured and needs care.

According to Working Families, the outcome of the local elections in Trenton and Montclair is crucial to the statewide campaign of extending paid sick leave to all workers in the state.

“The goal (of the local campaigns) is to cover workers in the present while making passage of a statewide law virtually inevitable,” reads the Working Families website. “We won’t stop until we make sure that, in New Jersey, getting sick never means getting fired.”



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