Huge crowd cheers as Morristown council refuses to change paid sick time measure

Activists celebrate after Morristown council nixes changes to its paid sick time ordinance, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Activists celebrate after Morristown council nixes changes to its paid sick time ordinance, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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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.

Analilia Mejia of Newark-based New Jersey Working Families addresses the Morristown council, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Analilia Mejia of Newark-based New Jersey Working Families addresses the Morristown council, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Activists celebrate after Morristown council nixes changes to its paid sick time ordinance, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council President Stefan Armington listens to public testimony, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

Jennifer Wehring of the Morristown Partnership addresses the town council, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jennifer Wehring of the Morristown Partnership addresses the town council, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

People line up to speak at Morristown council meeting, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
People line up to speak at Morristown council meeting, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.”

Every seat was taken, to hear the Morristown council debate immigration and paid sick time measures, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Every seat was taken, as the Morristown council debated immigration and paid sick time measures, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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.

 
Six council members approved the document; Deeb abstained, questioning statistics supplied by the Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center.
 

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.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Great argument, Jeff. You anonymous guys always have the most compelling reasoning and nuance on the issues.

  2. Ok paid sick sounds good. It’ll just come out of the PTO you already get. I understand the premise, but damn it’s already hard enough to own a business in NJ because the government pushes small business owners around and tells them what to do. What next, a requirement for free lunch?

  3. Who was fighting this? The only reason to fight this would not be that you want sick people at work, but that you want them to stay home and be punished for being sick by not paying them…if sick people don’t get sick day it affects the rest of your staff and your customers. I would love the businesses to be named in this article .

  4. Thank you for reporting on the council meeting and the two issues I attended for, the paid sick days for workers and extending TPS. The photo captured a very joyous crowd. Thank You.

  5. Great news. When workers are forced to come in sick, they make every else sick, who get their kids sick, who spread germs etc. Always best to let sick oeople stay home and not spread diseases to others!

  6. This is a win for Morristown workers!

    Proud to live in a town that places a high value on people and their quality of life. To paraphrase our esteemed First Lady: “When others go low, Morristown goes high!”

    PS: For Council members who questioned the validity of the need for earned sick pay, I suggest that they do some of their own research on the topic and not rely on other agencies to provide it for them. If you’re on a subcommittee studying this issue, research is part of the assignment. Here’s a place to start: https://iwpr.org/paid-sick-days-significant-benefits-low-costs/

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