In New Jersey, Workers’ Advocates Aim to Put Paid Sick Time on Ballot

The coalition has also supported a sick-leave bill sponsored in New Jersey’s Legislature by State Senator Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic majority leader, and Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, a Democrat from Camden County. The bill has not made much progress, however, and given businesses’ longtime objections to the idea, it is unclear whether Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, will support it.

Rather than waiting for state lawmakers to act, the coalition is pushing for local ordinances, with the one that Newark enacted this year as a model. Since June 1, workers in Newark, both full-time and part-time, have been earning one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. The amount of sick time they can accrue is capped at 40 hours a year for employees of businesses with 10 or more employees and at 24 hours for businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Employees can use sick time to care for themselves or to care for a sick family member, and cannot be punished for using it.

The New York City law, which took effect this year, requires up to 40 hours of paid sick leave at all businesses with at least five employees, and unpaid leave at smaller business.

If all six of the municipalities passed laws similar to Newark’s, the number of workers in the state with the benefit could double to about 140,000 before the end of the year, said Analilla Mejia, executive director of the Working Families Party in New Jersey. She said the coalition had gathered thousands of signatures on the petitions.

“We are prepared to take all of them to ballots,” Ms. Mejia said in an interview. But, she added, “We are pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm and support and recognition that this is a good thing for residents in these municipalities that we are getting from the mayors and members of the councils.”

The mayors of two of the cities, East Orange and Paterson, said last week that they endorsed the idea of allowing workers to earn some paid sick time and hoped that their councils would take action before Election Day in November.

Joey Torres, the mayor of Paterson, said he saw the matter as a “public health issue” because so many of the workers who do not get some paid sick time are employed in jobs that involve contact with the public, such as food services and day care centers.

“Forcing an employee to make a decision between not getting paid or coming into work sick means exposing the rest of the employees and maybe the customers to that illness,” he said.

Lester E. Taylor III, the mayor of East Orange, which has about 65,000 residents, made a similar point, alluding to workers like those who care for his young children. “I know firsthand that if their teachers at the day care center are sick, that means that I get sick, too,” he said.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Torres said they had not yet heard any significant opposition to the idea of mandating paid sick time. But both said they were cognizant of the burden the mandate would put on the smallest members of the private sector: the local merchants and service providers.

Indeed, among the most vocal opponents to the expanding campaign for paid sick time have been owners of franchises of national restaurant chains, such as Dunkin’ Donuts. Ed Shanahan, the executive director of DD Independent Franchise Owners, said he had not personally lobbied against the initiatives in each of the cities in New Jersey where they had come up, but he said he would if his organization, which represents owners of about 2,500 Dunkin’ Donuts shops, could afford it.

Mr. Shanahan said the ordinances could effectively double the cost of an hour of labor by forcing employers to find substitutes for the workers who would be paid while claiming to be sick. As an example he cited a teenage worker “who is scheduled for a Saturday shift but their buddies are going to the Jersey Shore,” so they would call in sick and go off to have fun.

“There would be plenty of frivolity that would be getting paid for,” Mr. Shanahan said, though he added that “somebody could be legitimately sick on a Friday.”

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