By Kevin Coughlin
Morristown on Tuesday became the 13th New Jersey municipality to require local employers to provide earned paid sick time for workers.
“I think the council did a very good thing,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said after the 6-1 vote. “We’re a progressive town, and this is a good ordinance for working families.”
Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who dissented, described this as an unfunded mandate that will hurt struggling businesses.
“Where is the money going to come from?” she said.
The measure was pushed by New Jersey Working Families. The United Way, New Jersey Citizen Action, Blue Wave NJ, the American Association of Retired Persons, and Wind of the Spirit were among organizations endorsing the ordinance at the council meeting.
Morristown is the first town in Morris County to adopt this law. Jersey City, Newark, East Orange, Irvington, Passaic, Paterson, Trenton, Montclair, Elizabeth, Plainfield, New Brunswick and Bloomfield have enacted similar legislation since 2013.
“Each local victory builds momentum for our ultimate goal of a statewide bill that guarantees earned sick time to the over one million New Jerseyans who face a terrible choice between their economic security and their family’s health when illness strikes,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, said in a statement.
Private-sector workers will earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.
Workers in businesses with 10 or more employees can earn five paid sick days per year; those in businesses with nine or fewer employees can earn three paid sick days per year.
Because they interact with the public, food service and healthcare workers can earn five sick days regardless of company size. Employees may use sick days to care for themselves or their sick children, siblings, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.
‘LOTS OF UNANSWERED QUESTIONS’
A parade of advocates on Tuesday cited studies and statistics purporting to show that paid sick days will reduce contagion and produce happier, healthier, more productive employees who will boost the bottom line.
“This is the right thing to do, a basic, simple, commonsense measure,” said Kim Hurdman, a Morristown resident with Blue Wave NJ. The law should help some 4,600 workers in Morristown, estimates the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
The measure calls for unspecified fines for employers who fail to provide paid sick time to eligible workers.
Deeb questioned how that will be enforced. Town Attorney Vij Pawar said health officers will investigate complaints. But Morris County supplies the town’s health inspection services, and it’s unclear if the contract covers this.
“There are lots of unanswered questions,” said Deeb, one of two Republicans on the council.
Ben Fleischer, whose wife owns Suzi’s Salon in town, warned that the law removes an important bargaining chip from employers in their negotiations with job candidates.
He predicted abuses by employees, and legal fees, and increased bookkeeping headaches.
“Step by step, the government is taking over,” said Fleischer, blaming Obamacare for tripling his wife’s health insurance costs.
A former employee of Suzi’s was among those speaking for paid sick time. Marilyn Sealy, owner of Wells Rug Service, also spoke up.
“It creates very loyal workers,” Sealy said.
Bob Iannaccone, the council’s other Republican, said he supported the ordinance for public health reasons, and because his First Ward constituents appeared to strongly favor it.
Yet the densely worded measure could have been improved and strengthened if the council had more time, he said.
New Jersey Working Families submitted its model ordinance to the council in July for introduction last month. The clock was ticking: Over the summer, the nonprofit had garnered enough local petition signatures to place a paid sick leave referendum on the November ballot in Morristown.
After its council victory on Tuesday, New Jersey Working Families said it would withdraw the referendum by Sept. 19, 2016, the county’s printing deadline for November ballots.
Iannaccone said he would have liked more time to solicit input from area companies. “I’m quite disappointed that the business community in Morristown is woefully under-represented” at the meeting, he said.
Opinions were solicited from more than 500 businesses in town by the Morristown Partnership, said its marketing director, Jennifer Wehring. Fewer than 20 responded to the e-blast; most of them opposed mandatory paid sick time, she said.
“It’s very challenging for small business owners to factor in some of these costs,” Wehring said.