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Petitions Submitted to Montclair Township Clerk to Give Private Sector Workers Paid Sick Days

Natalie Heard Hackett

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 • 4:15pm

MONTCLAIR, NJ - Over 1600 petitions were delivered to Montclair Municipal Clerk, Linda Wanat, Tuesday afternoon that would initiate a process to place a local ordinance on the ballot guaranteeing the right of the towns' private sector workers to earn paid sick days.

Montclair Township is among five towns throughout the state of New Jersey that have had petitions delivered that will place local ordinances on the ballot guaranteeing the right of the cities' private sector workers to earn paid sick days.  Those five cities include Irvington, Montclair, Passaic, Paterson, and Trenton.  Two other towns, Newark and Jersey City, have already enacted earned sick days laws.  Yarrow Willman-Cole, Assistant Director of Working Families Programs at Rutgers University, said,  "The City of East Orange introduced similar legislation during their council meeting Monday.  It passed during the first reading."

If enacted, the ordinances would cover 74,000 workers in the five towns who are unable to earn paid sick days to care for themselves or their families in event of an illness.  Along with Newark and Jersey City, a total of 144,000 workers will have received the right to earn sick days through local ordinances.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 16,438 private-sector workers in Montclair Township.  Of those, the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University estimates that 7068 are without paid sick leave. 

"…New Jerseyans around the state have delivered an unmistakable message to their elected leaders: earned sick days should be a basic workplace right," said Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of New Jersey Working Families.  "Voters understand that no workers should ever be forced to choose between their paycheck and their health.  We all get sick, so we all need the time to care for ourselves and our families when illness strikes."

Montclair Township and the four other towns identified are organized under New Jersey's Faulkner Act.  Under the terms of the Faulkner Act, a local ballot initiative process is enacted when 10 percent of the registered voters in the last election sign the petitions endorsing legislation.  

More than 1600 petitions were submitted to the Montclair municipal clerk, which exceeds the required amount.  Montclair Municipal Clerk Wanat told the coalition when they delivered the petitions, "We have to certify every signature in the SVRS.”  The Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS) is a database that houses each voter’s signature and voter information.

Wanat stated that there were 10,335 voters in the last election and 10 percent is 1034.  1654 are the total number of petitions delivered by the coalition to Wanat.   Mejia told Wanat when she dropped off the petitions, “We didn’t hit the 15% threshold because we didn’t want to trigger a special election since it is costly to the town.”  The coalition stated that they purposely did not want to reach the 15% threshold.  Their intent was for it to be passed by an ordinance or for it to go on the ballot in November.

Mejia said, “Our interest here is that we think this is an important benefit for workers and a critical benefit for public health.  This initiative means that people in critical areas of food service, child care, elder care, don’t have to go in sick.”

Freeholder Brendan Gill accompanied the coalition stating, “I am partnering and supporting as part of the coalition as an elected official,” said Freeholder Brendan Gill.  “This is a great opportunity to enact some common sense legislation for people who work here in Montclair in the food service industry or the day care industry.  The idea of an Earned paid sick leave is one that makes a lot of sense.  They have implemented it in the City of Newark and Jersey City.  I am excited for the potential of either having it on the ballot or having this pass as an ordinance.”  Gill added, “We are doing the outreach to business owners now.”

Once the signatures were reviewed by the Municipal Clerk, the Township Council can choose to pass the law without substantial amendment by a simple majority vote or allow voters to approve it during the next election.  Any initiatives that go to the ballot will be voted on November 4, 2014.

The grassroots coalition collected petitions over the course of three months.  The coalition consists of New Jersey Working Families, New Jersey Citizen Action, the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition, New Jersey Communities United, SEIU 32BJ and CWA.

Dena Mottola Jaborska, Director of Advocacy and Organizing for New Jersey Citizen Action, said, “This is an important policy for all working people who we believe when they get sick or their family member gets sick need a few days a year to stay home to take care of themselves or their family members.  This is a movement that is happening around the nation San Francisco, New York and a lot of the cities around the country have already moved forward on this and now we’re working in multiple cities, including the Town of Montclair to pass this policy. We’ve been out knocking on doors and there has been a lot of support in the town from residents for a paid sick days policy.”

These ordinances closely model legislation signed by former Newark Mayor Luis Quintana in January, which allows private-sector workers to earn 1 hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Individuals working in businesses with 10 or more employees, can earn 5 paid sick days per year; workers in businesses with nine or fewer employees who are directly in contact with the public, such as food service and daycare workers would be eligible to earn 5 sick days regardless of company size.  The days can be used to care for themselves or for sick children, siblings, parents, grandparents or grandchildren.

Marcia Marley, President of BlueWaveNJ, said, “We believe that every town in New Jersey should give and every worker should have paid sick days.  It’s a public health issue, it’s a social justice issue.  When people have to go to work they pass on illness to their customers. When they can’t stay home with their sick kids they pass it on and their sick kids go to school and pass it to the rest of the public.  We hope that it will pass and become legislation in Montclair.”

Nearly one quarter of adults in the U.S. have been terminated or threatened with job loss for taking time off to recover from illness or care for a sick loved one.  The absence of paid sick days disproportionately affects low-income individuals.  For a low-income family without paid sick days, going just 3.5 days without wages is the equivalent to losing a month's groceries.

According to a poll conducted by Rutgers Eagleton and the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, over 83 percent of New Jerseyans support earned sick days laws.  Studies of earned sick days laws strengthen local economies says over 20 New Jersey Economists.

Robert Jackson, Mayor of Montclair, said, “I’m still looking at the law and making some judgments about it.  I haven’t talked to my colleagues at all and I haven’t spoken with members of the business community here in town.  Our life’s blood are restaurants and I want to chat with the business associations and see how they feel about it.  These are very important players in our town and will be affected parties so I want to get input from everybody before reaching a conclusion.”  “I don’t think most of the business owners in town realize that this is on the horizon so I think their input is vitally important.”

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