An overflow crowd cheered on Tuesday when the Morristown council voted against tweaking an ordinance that requires local employers to provide paid sick days to workers who earn them.
Many also applauded a symbolic vote urging President Trump and Congress to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Hondurans and other immigrants facing deportation after years here under that humanitarian federal program.
Supporters and opponents of amending the sick pay measure were hard-pressed to explain the proposed changes that sparked long and ardent debate.
In the end, Mayor Tim Dougherty suggested waiting for Gov.-elect Phil Murphy’s promised state law on sick days.
And that’s what the council did, by a 4-3 vote that rejected recommendations by a subcommittee composed of Council President Stefan Armington and Council Members Robert Iannaccone and Alison Deeb.
The subcommittee had tried to address concerns of the business community, which had little time to weigh in last year when the council rushed to become New Jersey’s 13th municipality to adopt the ordinance.
It had been drafted by New Jersey Working Families, which was poised to place the matter on the local ballot last November.
The council pre-empted that move by swiftly enacting the ordinance–reasoning that ordinances, unlike referendums, can be revised quickly if necessary.
With backing from the pro-business Morristown Partnership, the subcommittee aimed to clarify sections of the 2016 ordinance, and to apply it to the town government as well as private employers.
The recommended revisions also specified that employees of temp companies doing business in town should be entitled to earned sick days, while independent contractors should not.
But the battle centered on per diem workers.
They should be excluded from mandatory sick benefits because they usually are better paid, with more flexible schedules, than permanent employees, contended the subcommittee.
That exclusion would jeopardize public health, by causing per diem workers to report to jobs at hospitals and restaurants when they are sick, argued Analilia Mejia, director of New Jersey Working Families, along with a parade of activists, union workers, and residents.
Armington, who voted unsuccessfully with Iannaccone and Deeb for the changes, said he reached out to New Jersey Working Families several times but received no data supporting claimed public health dangers.
Working Families also worried that any Morristown tinkering might encourage other towns to weaken their paid sick time ordinances, WF Organizer James Hopkins said.
Consistency is key, said George Liothake, human resources director for the Atlantic Health System, which owns Morristown Medical Center.
Atlantic operates in about 350 venues, he said, and compliance with a welter of local laws is challenging.
Prior to last year’s ordinance, some 4,600 workers in Morristown lacked paid sick time, according to estimates from the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.
Private-sector establishments now must give workers at least 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.
Employees may use sick days to care for themselves or their sick children, siblings, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.
IN OTHER BUSINESS…
Citing the town’s population of Honduran- and Salvadoran TPS holders, a council resolution asserted that ending the program “would harm the Morristown community by throwing the lives of long-term town residents into chaos, separating parents from their children, and damaging the local economy.”
Members of Congress should “work on a meaningful legislative proposal that would provide access to permanent status for long-time TPS holders,” the resolution urged.
Since 1990, the U.S. has granted Temporary Protection Status to immigrants from 10 countries devastated by wars or natural disasters.
This week, the Department of Homeland Security ruled it’s safe to send Haitian TPS holders home. Nicaraguan TPS holders have been told they must leave the U.S. by January 2019.
El Salvador’s TPS designation ends next March; a decision on Honduras is due by next June.
The council also introduced a measure to impose two-hour parking restrictions, from 8 am to 4 pm on weekdays, along portions of Sherman Place, Shenandoah Place and Wisteria Terrace.