By Katherine Landergan - 03/12/2018 07:00 PM EDT
TRENTON — A proposal that would guarantee paid sick leave to nearly all New Jersey workers cleared its first major legislative hurdle on Monday, but not before the primary sponsor negotiated amendments she says will satisfy both business owners and labor advocates.
One union official and a key lawmaker, however, weren’t happy.
“I feel good about where we are, and where we’ve landed,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) said after the Assembly Labor Committee voted 6-2 to advance the measure.
The original legislation allowed both full- and part-time workers up 72 hours that could be used as paid sick leave or personal time off. Under the amended bill, all workers will be able to earn 40 hours of paid leave.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the sponsor in the upper house, said she planned to push back on that amendment.
“I would have preferred to see a stronger bill,” Weinberg said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
Passage of the bill would, for the first time, guarantee paid sick time for upwards of 1 million private sector workers and would make New Jersey the 10th state, along with the District of Columbia, to implement such a law.
It would also be a victory for Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney, at a time when the two men are clashing over major policy issues like taxes. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has not yet weighed in publicly on the bill.
Lampitt said the amendments she negotiated over the weekend will allow employers to “black out” certain dates, such as some holidays, under which employees could not take personal time. The amended version would also exempt per diem hospital employees, and seasonal workers who work fewer than 120 days, and supersede existing paid sick leave laws in 13 municipalities.
The changes were welcomed by some members of the business community, many of whom had opposed the original legislation.
Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said that with some additional changes, her group might publicly back the proposal.
“If we can find an agreeable employer and employee compromise, that’s the right thing to do,” she said.
But Kevin Brown, New Jersey state director for 32BJ SEIU, was angered by the amendments, and called the change from 72 hours to 40 hours of leave time “extremely disappointing.”
Brown, whose union represents 12,000 property service workers in New Jersey, said the new legislation will prevent union workers who don’t currently have earned sick time, from gaining it until their next contracted is negotiated.
“That’s ridiculous,” Brown said.
On the issue of per diem hospital workers, Analilia Mejia, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, told the labor committee she understands the reasoning for excluding nurses, who earn high hourly rates. But, she said, it should not exclude other lower wage per diem hospital workers.
“We hope you to look at this issue with a scalpel and not a hatchet,” she said.
One change that both the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce are lobbying for is an exemption for small businesses with fewer than five employees. It’s an idea that Lampitt says is not on the table right now.
Assemblyman Harold Wirths (R-Sussex), who served as labor commissioner under former Gov. Chris Christie, said the state needs to stand up for the small businesses and give them more flexibility.
“As a former labor commissioner I cannot see why anyone would want to grow their business in New Jersey right now,” he said.
The limited amount of data available indicates that providing paid sick leave has not had a negative impact on businesses. A 2015 study by Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work examined how Jersey City’s law worked during its first year. According to the study, most employers did not report problems and about a third who had to change their policies reported increased productivity.