Require paid sick leave for all of N.J.: Editorial

iStock_000007676995MediumA recent editorial from New Jersey’s Star Ledger challenges the state’s political, business and community leaders to stand in support of workers’ most basic rights and pass paid sick leave for all. Washington’s leaders should do the same.

From the folks who brought us voter suppression laws and “stand your ground,” there’s a new movement that paints a target on the little guy: The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, is behind several new laws across the country that ban cities and towns from requiring paid sick leave for their private-sector workers.

So far this year, seven states have adopted the pre-emptive paid sick leave bans, bringing the nationwide total to 10. Fourteen other states are considering one. Pennsylvania lawmakers began working on a sick leave ban just last month.

New Jersey has a chance to push back by requiring sick time for every worker in the state. At the moment, public momentum favors workers. In October, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop won mandatory paid sick days in his city. Newark’s city council is considering it. No lawmaker has proposed ALEC’s sick-leave ban in New Jersey — and it’s not likely the bill would get far if they did.

Moreover, New Jersey voters on Election Day overwhelmingly supported raising the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour. The pendulum is swinging toward workers’ rights, not against them.

When Fulop first proposed his city’s sick leave ordinance, he called it “basic human dignity.” It’s also smart health policy. Workers who don’t have access to paid sick days are much more likely to go to work sick, putting co-workers and customers at risk. Sick workers cost roughly $160 billion a year in lost productivity. Meanwhile, paid sick time accounts for less than 1 percent of private-sector payrolls, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And picture this: Seventy-nine percent of food workers — who are especially prone to spreading germs — don’t get paid sick days. Do you want a coughing, contagious waitress handling your food because she’ll be fired if she stays home?

In May, Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) introduced a bill requiring employers to offer at least 40 paid sick hours a year. It never moved. Neither did its companion bill in the Senate. Both will be reintroduced in January.

The timing is ripe for paid sick leave to become a statewide right in New Jersey, where more than 1.2 million workers don’t get to stay home when they’re under the weather. Catching a cold shouldn’t force the state’s most vulnerable workers to choose between staying healthy and staying employed.

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