A big win

Such a big step forward to ethical treatment of workers & customers. Promoted by Rosi

Last night Jersey City made a little bit of history.

In a 7-1 vote (with one abstention) the Jersey City Council passed legislation proposed by Mayor Steven Fulop that would let private sector employees earn sick time. It means that 30,000 Jersey City workers – many of them low-income workers, immigrants, women and people of color – will no longer risk getting fired every time they come down with the flu.

Earned sick days is one of the major progressive causes of the day, and it’s easy to see why. About 23% of all workers will either be fired or be threatened with layoffs because they got sick or they needed to care for a sick family member. Most good jobs provide paid sick days, so the burden falls disproportionately on the working poor and the most vulnerable.

Momentum for paid sick days has been building around the country. San Francisco passed paid sick days in 2007, and Connecticut and Seattle followed suit. This year Portland, Oregon and New York City joined their ranks. The issue became a lightning rod in New York City’s mayoral primary, and it’s arguable that Speaker Chris Quinn alienated much of the liberal support that pushed Bill de Blasio to victory when she held up an earned sick days bill for three years.

Progressive victories in the public interest have been few and far between these last four years in New Jersey. Chris Christie has consistently used his office to enrich the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the rest of us. Good budgets that funded our schools and our safety net have been dissected with line-item vetoes – and good bills have been shot down altogether.

That’s (part) of what makes what happened last night in Jersey City so special. For those who couldn’t make it, it was a sight. Dozens of supporters filled the seats with signs saying, “Dunkin’ Donuts workers need sick days too!” A huge line of workers, small business owners, and policy experts waited to testify about how paid sick days is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. On the other side? A single business association leader who repeated the same sad song about how even the most benign and commonsense worker protections will destroy Jersey City’s economy and capitalism as we know it.

But this time, it was the people’s voices that were heard rather than the business lobbyists.  

No one is resting on their laurels after this. The coalition that helped make the Jersey City ordinance happen already has their sights set on Newark, where a majority of council members have committed to moving similar legislation forward. The potential to pass this legislation in New Jersey’s two largest cities is well within reach.

And we won’t stop there. The statewide Time to Care Coalition has been working for years to bring paid sick days statewide. Led by groups like New Jersey Citizen Action and the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, the coalition has already stood with Asm. Pamela Lampitt and Senator Loretta Weinberg to introduce a bill that would cover the 1.5 million New Jerseyans who are all too often forced to choose between getting paid and getting well.

If you’re in the Essex area and want to help with next steps, shoot me a message. We’ll continue to keep the rest of you updated. Next stop, Newark.

Rob Duffey is Policy and Communications Coordinator of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance

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