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.
“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.
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.
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.