Jersey City takes a big step forward

Yesterday the New York Times broke some big, great news: next Wednesday the Jersey City City Council will consider legislation that would make it the first city in New Jersey – and the 6th city nationwide  to guarantee paid sick days for its residents.

Mayor Steven Fulop is showing real leadership here, and he’s giving Jersey City a lead role in a nationwide fight. This morning the Star-Ledger editorial board endorsed his proposal and argued that paid sick days — or as we like to call them, earned sick days — should be a ‘universal right’ for all workers.

They’re absolutely right. 1.2 million New Jerseyans lack earned sick days, most of them low-income. In fact, 1 in 4 of New Jersey’s low-income workers don’t have a single earned sick day. These are people who simply can’t afford to take time off or risk losing their job when they fall ill.

Instead, they often bring their germs to work with them. These are the people who serve our food and take care of our children and our elderly. Earned sick days aren’t just a matter of workers’ rights; they are a critical component of any forward-thinking public health policy.

However, as in any fight, there are opponents. Everywhere these laws are proposed, the business lobby has come out to challenge them with bogus arguments about how it will hurt small businesses and limit productivity.

Exhibit A can be found in the following article in NJBiz. Critics are saying that the law is at once unnecessary because businesses are usually ‘very tolerant and flexible,’ while at the same time claiming the law would be a huge burden on businesses that will force many to ‘close their doors.

Not only are these arguments contradictory, they’re same sorts of sky is falling claims that corporate interests have made on policies from the minimum wage to child labor laws. And it turns out that in other cities and states that have passed earned sick days laws, those predictions have been proven wrong.

More than two out of three small businesses in San Francisco now support the earned sick days law passed four years ago. And why not? The city experienced better job growth than the five surrounding counties that didn’t have guaranteed earned sick leave. Four years after passage PriceWaterHouseCoopers ranked San Francisco one of the top cities of the world to do business in.

Connecticut actually experienced job growth in its leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors, which were most impacted by the law.

It turns out that earned sick days actually boost local economies. In part that’s because healthy workers are productive workers, and workers who come to work sick when they should be resting end up costing businesses even more.

And those workers who do end up losing pay or even their jobs because they won’t come to work sick can’t contribute to the economy by purchasing goods and services.

Passing this ordinance is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do, and we’re working in coalition with citizen groups like New Jersey Citizen Action and unions like SEIU 32BJ to make sure it happens. The ordinance is likely coming up for its first reading in the Jersey City Council at 6:00 pm next Wednesday at City Hall. If you’re a Jersey City resident you should come show your support. Or if you’d like to hear about other ways to get involved, shoot me an email at rob@njworkingfamilies.org.

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

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