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New Brunswick City Council Passes Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

Elizabeth Garlatti Was Only Councilperson to Vote Against the Legislation
City Council Meeting
Many people attended this City Council meeting to speak on Paid Sick Leave Hallel Yadin

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Ordinance 121501, guaranteeing paid sick and safe leave to certain New Brunswick workers, passed at the city council meeting on December 16. The ordinance will take effect in January 2016.

The legislation also calls for a sick pay administrator to deal with enacting the ordinance and handle any complaints. Maria Cody, currently the rent control coordinator of New Brunswick, will fill that role.

So many people attended this City Council meeting that city authorities forced people to leave due to occupancy and fire safety concerns.

Glenn Patterson, Director of Planning, Community & Economic Development for the city, introduced the ordinance.

He pointed out that many "advanced economies," like Australia and Japan, have similar laws, as do American cities like Montgomery County, MD, Tacoma, WA, and ten other municipalities in the state of New Jersey. He also highlighted the safe leave aspect of the ordinance, which allows workers to take time off if they or their family members have to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

New Brunswick is the 11th city in New Jersey to pass a Paid Sick Leave ordinance, but is the first city in New Jersey to provide safe leave.

Several New Brunswick labor advocacy groups were in attendance to voice their support of the legislation, including Esperanza Neighborhood Project, New Labor, and Unity Square.

One Unity Square representative, speaking through a translator, said, "I am one the community members that lives and works in New Brunswick...this ordinance will resolve a huge problem in the New Brunswick community."

Another said, "I've been here nearly twenty years...It is time for New Brunswick to see ordinances like paid sick leave...I'd like to give thanks to all the council members."

An Esperzana Neighborhood Project member named Milagros, said through a translator, "Before, I was working with a temporary agency, and I've seen a lot of workplace injustices, especially toward Latino workers...we ask you to approve this ordinance tonight as a Christmas gift to New Brunswick families. We also ask you to conitue expanding this ordinance in the future."

Other labor advocacy groups, such as NJ Working Families and NJ Citizen Action, spoke about issues with the legislation.

The main issues that were brought up were that the legislation does not apply to workers who work fewer than twenty hours a week, per-diem hospital workers, and telecommuters, and it includes certain provisions for restaurant workers that may discourage them from making use of the paid leave they earn.

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said that she was "conerned that this falls far below minimum labor standards...[we] don't want part-time workers getting discriminated against."

Another commenter pointed out that these part-time workers who won't be covered by the current ordinance are predominantly women and/or people of color.

Darlene Smith, executive vice-president of the URA-AFT, the Union of Rutgers Adminstrators, brought up concerns about people working from home or telecommuting.

She also said, "carving out the medical staff is a big disservice...I think you're going to put a lot of people at risk. And the same goes for food service workers...We have a lot of college students, and, I think, high school students who will be carved out [with the part-time restrictions]."

City council members did respond to some of these concerns.

City council president Kevin Egan said, "When you work per-diem at a hosptial, you make a deal with the hospital, [you] don't get any benefits."

Patterson agreed, saying those workers gave up those benefits for "premium pay and flexibility." Regarding the fact that businesses with fewer than five employees were not covered by the ordinance, he said, "It's a cost/benefit balance...it's common in a lot of types of these ordinances."

All City Council members voted to pass the ordinance except for Councilperson Elizabeth Garlatti.

“The ordinance attempts to address two areas of critical importance: the health and wellness of our City’s employees, their co-workers, and consumers and the success and vitality of our local businesses and employers,” said Mayor Jim Cahill. “We appreciate all the input we received in crafting this ordinance which best addresses the interests of employees and businesses in and the taxpayers of the City of New Brunswick.”