Looking to join a movement that is gaining traction nationwide, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop is proposing that businesses in his city be required to offer employees sick days.
Fulop, a Democrat who was elected in May, said that offering sick days is "the right thing to do," and is an issue of economic justice for the working poor. Twenty percent of Jersey City families make less than $25,000 a year, according to census data.
"It's a basic human dignity sort of issue," Fulop said in an interview. "The reality is, even from an employer's standpoint, I would say that a healthy worker is a productive worker."
The bill, if passed by the city council next week, would make Jersey City the first municipality in the state to mandate sick leave. It is the state's second-largest city. It only covers private employers. The city has seen an influx of banks and corporations including J.P. Morgan along its waterfront, which is known as "Wall Street West."
The issue of mandatory sick leave has been brewing in cities and legislatures nationwide. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Washington D.C., and the state of Connecticut have all passed laws mandating sick leave. The New York City Council passed a law — over a veto from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — requiring employers with more than 20 workers to offer sick leave next year.
The proposal in Jersey City, a city of 250,000 across the Hudson River from Manhattan, is more generous than most. It requires that businesses with 10 or more employees provide workers with up to five paid sick days; those with fewer employees must give up to five unpaid sick days. Workers accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. A new employee will immediately start accruing sick time, but must wait until he or she has worked for 90 days to use the time.
The New Jersey Working Families Alliance, which supports the bill, said it will help low-wage workers such as home health aides and security officers. The organization plans a push for similar legislation in Newark, the state's largest city, later this year.
"For workers without sick days, losing your job can be as easy as catching the flu, and that's not right, " executive director Bill Holland said.
The laws have run into fervent opposition nationwide from business groups, which said they reduce productivity and increase cost. They have hit roadblocks nationwide. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed mandatory sick day legislation earlier this year, and Denver voters rejected a referendum calling for it in 2011. A Milwaukee mandatory sick leave bill was nullified by state law.
A bill mandating sick leave has been introduced in Congress. Similar attempts at federal legislation have failed in recent years.
"It's really piling on the small businesses at a time when the economy is still struggling to recover," said Philip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "It has real-world impacts that are very, very hard for small businesses to absorb."