Morristown council holds firm on paid sick leave measure

Resident Hillary Lindner addresses the Morristown council, while Councilman Bob Iannaccone listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Resident Hillary Lindner addresses the Morristown council, while Councilman Bob Iannaccone listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Video: Morristown council defends paid sick days ordinance

By Kevin Coughlin

In a long and articulate statement, a Morristown resident on Tuesday asked the town council to repeal an ordinance that requires local employers to provide paid sick leave to their workers.

But it was the empty council chamber that spoke volumes to the officials, who held firm on their 6-1 vote from September.

“I see no reason for repealing an ordinance because there is one person here” in opposition, said Council President Stefan Armington.

Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the business district, agreed, saying people he surveyed in his district overwhelmingly support the ordinance.

Still, the Republican conceded he was not happy that the council was compelled to act so swiftly over the summer–to pre-empt a ballot referendum pushed by a Newark advocacy group–and added he was  “shocked” that hardly any businesses have attended council meetings to express opposition.

Resident Hillary Lindner said a repeal petition drive is under way.

Ninety percent of small businesses responding to this drive fear the measure will hurt them economically, she said.

Councilwoman Alison Deeb holds letter from the Morris County Chamber of Commerce; Council President Stefan Armington listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilwoman Alison Deeb holds letter from the Morris County Chamber of Commerce; Council President Stefan Armington listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“Some of Morristown’s best brands are against this – bakeries, lawyers, medical practices, retail establishments, plumbers, restaurants – you name it, they all do not like this and are not happy about it and make no mistake there are real consequences to jobs, wages and other benefits,” said Lindner.

Her husband, Richard Lindner, owns businesses in Randolph. “He values his employees and treats them as human beings — without being mandated to do so,” she said.

“I’m sure you treat your employees very well,” responded Iannaccone. “But I will tell you, I’ve been in business 30 years, and that is not always the case. The purpose of the ordinance…was to help protect some of the people who were unempowered to speak up. ”

Councilwoman Alison Deeb, the only council member who voted against the ordinance, read aloud a letter from the Morris County Chamber of Commerce warning that a patchwork of these local laws is a “nightmare” for small businesses.

Deeb tried to introduce resolutions to repeal, reconsider, or delay implementation of, the ordinance, but she failed to get a second. 

Mayor Tim Dougherty already delayed the start date of the measure until Jan. 11, 2017, to give employers  more time to prepare.

Morristown is the 13th municipality in New Jersey to mandate paid sick leave. Advocates contend it will curb the spread of illness, and result in healthier, happier, more productive employees.

Resident Hillary Lindner addresses the Morristown council, while Councilman Bob Iannaccone listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Resident Hillary Lindner addresses the Morristown council, while Councilman Bob Iannaccone listens. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

POINTED EXCHANGE

The ordinance does not supersede more generous benefits offered by businesses, nor does it cover government employees.  But for private-sector establishments without such policies, it enables workers to 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.

Councilmembers Hiliari Davis, left, and Alison Deeb differ over paid sick leave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilmembers Hiliari Davis, left, and Alison Deeb differ over paid sick leave. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Food service and healthcare workers can earn five sick days regardless of company size, for public health reasons. Employees may use sick days to care for themselves or their sick children, siblings, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.

The ordinance was drafted by New Jersey Working Families, and supported before the council by organizations including the American Association of Retired Persons, Blue Wave New Jersey and Wind of the Spirit.

Deeb, who is the other Republican on the council, has questioned how the ordinance will be enforced. Morristown has contracted with Morris County to provide health inspections. Nobody at Tuesday’s council meeting could describe penalties for noncompliance with the ordinance.

In a pointed exchange, Councilwoman Hiliari Davis told Deeb:  “If these businesses that you claim are not in support of this effort–they should be here representing themselves.” 

Davis said she was deluged by emails from supporters of the measure; Deeb alleged some of the messages were fraudulent.

Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris said there have been no complaints from the Morris County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce
or other businesses organizations.

Iannaccone said the council sought feedback from the Morristown Partnership, the organization that oversees the business district. A Morristown petition by New Jersey Working Families obtained 575  signatures, enough to place a paid sick leave referendum on last month’s ballot, Armington said.

Had the question gone to voters and been approved, it would have been cast in stone for three years, according to Assistant Town Attorney Joni Noble McDonnell.  Instead, the council introduced and passed its own ordinance, over a month-long period, in hopes of sparking public discussion, Iannaccone said.

That was not enough time, said Lindner. The Morristown Partnership contacted only 20 businesses, she said.

IN OTHER BUSINESS…TRAFFIC, HOUSING, NATURE

The council voted 6-0 (Councilman Michael Elms was absent) to approve the transfer of $100,000 in surplus funds to pay for the second phase of a traffic study.

Last month the council authorized a $300,000 study by the international firm Arup.  That’s for data collection, said town Administrator Jillian Barrick.  The additional $100,000 will pay for recommendations, she said.

That money was left over from the town’s purchase of a flood-prone house at 7 Coal Ave., Barrick said.  Back in 2005, the town estimated the acquisition could cost $400,000; it received a $206,000 grant from Morris County toward last year’s $275,000 purchase.

Councilwoman Harris voted for the transfer, but asked that the $100,000 surplus be restored in next year’s municipal budget.

Davis, meanwhile, asked if Morristown Housing Authority Commissioner Teresa Rodriguez automatically is disqualified from the volunteer post for missing four consecutive meetings. 

McDonnell, the town attorney, said she would investigate. The council appointed Rodriguez, a resident of public housing, in December 2015.

Separately, Iannaccone urged officials and residents to attend the Morris County freeholders meeting on Dec. 14, 2016, to support adoption of a $133,000 grant to complete a trail around Foote’s Pond.

 

 

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6 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a fine idea to have (or give) this benefit, but why does government need to mandate it? This would, thankfully, never pass in Morris Township.

  2. One hour of earned sick time for 30 hours of time worked and there’s an objection to that?
    I would like to know what businesses signed this petition.

    Maybe people who care about low wage workers shouldn’t shop at places unwilling to provide this most basic care for their employees…

  3. This ordinance is more than appropriate. Lucky for some employees that their employers already provide such benefits, but for many, this is not the case. There are many reasons why mandated sick leave is important. I’m proud to live in a town that understands the challenge, and has worked to do what is right. Thank you to the Mayor and those in the Council who have supported this ordinance.

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