A key New Jersey lawmaker said Wednesday that a statewide paid sick leave requirement for employers is a priority for later this year, setting up a likely battle between private-sector business and labor groups.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said that the Assembly will begin considering the issue in September, a decision that solidifies New Jersey's standing at the forefront of the issue.
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Since last year, the state's two largest cities — Newark and Jersey City — have put in place so-called earned sick leave requirements.
And this week, similar measures have been introduced through a proposed ordinance in East Orange and in proposed ballot measures in five other cities in the state. Only Connecticut currently has a statewide requirement for sick leave and just a handful of cities across the country do.
In an interview Wednesday, Prieto, a Democrat, said that having laws vary community by community is a reason for a unified state law.
He said there are about 1.1 million workers in the state who do not have paid time off.
"What are their options? Coming to work sick, or not going to work and not being paid and not being able to put food on the table," Prieto said.
He called the bill under consideration a "work in progress."
The measure up for consideration would give one hour of paid leave time to employees for every 30 hours they work. For a full-time employee, that comes out to around eight sick days each year.
Stefanie Riehl, an assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said her group would push against the bill.
She said the goal of sick time for all workers is "very laudable" but it would be costly for employers. She said that about three-fourths of the state's workers already have paid leave. Many of the others are seasonal workers or work in retail or restaurants. She said in many businesses, requiring sick leave would mean the owners would have to pay both the worker who is off and a replacement brought in to fill in.
Currently, she said, workers in those sorts of jobs can usually trade shifts in ways that work for them. She also said that a requirement that workers taking leave not have to give advance notice would be bad for managers. Further, she said, working out the pay for workers in restaurants who receive tips would be difficult.
"The legislation is so prescriptive," she said.
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