NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—New Brunswick’s City Council is slowly coming around to support the concept of paid sick leave for private-sector workers, but the city’s longtime Mayor is “still researching” it, according to his spokesperson.
A June 15 meeting between advocates campaigning for the adoption of the policy, two Council members, and Mayor James Cahill lasted two hours according to participants, who said all three agreed to support the reform.
“This is a huge step in improving the health and wellbeing of New Brunswick families, and a victory in which we all share!” declared the Facebook page of Unity Square, one of the groups pressing for the law.
City Council President Kevin Egan confirmed on June 17 that he now expects to support an ordinance that would guarantee thousands of workers throughout the city time off from their job if they or a family member are sick.
“That is true… We did have a meeting on Monday,” said Egan. “I belive in time–I can’t give you a specific time–that we’ll be moving in that direction.”
Escobar had already pledged to support the initiative, during remarks made in Spanish at a previous Council meeting.
But a spokesperson for their running mate, Mayor Jim Cahill, said the longtime Mayor was not yet ready to commit to signing such an ordinance into law.
“I don’t believe a decision of any finality has yet been arrived at,” said Cahill spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw. “I do know that the meeting went well.”
It sounds like at least one other member of the City Council is supportive of paid sick leave.
“I always have [supported paid sick leave], always had some questions. It’s coming along,” said Councilman John Anderson.
The law would require the support of three City Council members votes to pass, but without Cahill’s support, four Council members would have to cross the Mayor and override his veto.
The remaining two Council members have not explicitly indicated they will support paid sick leave in New Brunswick.
“I’m going to look at all the positions just like we always do and vote in a responsible way,” said Councilman Glenn Fleming.
“I can only agree with my running mates,” said Councilwoman Betsy Garlatti, who is up for re-election in 2016 along with Fleming and Anderson.
Mayor James Cahill reportedly told advocates he would support a paid sick leave ordinance, but a spokesperson for his office still insisted the Mayor was not necessarily ready to sign a paid sick leave law.
“At the meeting Mayor Cahill and Councilmembers Egan and Escobar committed their support to enacting an earned sick leave policy for workers in New Brunswick,” reads a Facebook post made by Unity Square, one of several organizations fighting for the passage of sick leave legislation.
Even after the June 17 Council meeting where Cahill’s running mate confirmed he was now in support of the legislation, Bradshaw maintained that Cahill still had not been convinced.
“They had a productive meeting and all parties were pleased with how it went. The Mayor is still working on researching paid sick leave and how it would fit into New Brunswick’s ordinances,” said Bradshaw. “That does not mean he is ready to sign one into law, but the conversation is by no means over, either.”
US President Barack Obama has called on local officials to “lead on leave,” passing municipal laws while a federal law mandating paid sick leave across the country remains out of reach.
Meanwhile, NJ Governor Chris Christie has opposed paid sick leave legislation at the state level, effectively blocking efforts to provide the benefit to all workers.
The City Council has been under pressure from organized advocacy groups including Unity Square, New Labor, and the Esperanza Neighborhood Project, who together submitted over 1,000 signatures to the City Council and appeared en masse at Council meetings over the past several months.
The group of advocates also enjoyed support from experts like doctors and medical professionals, as well as the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance and a researched who studied the impact of Jersey City’s paid sick leave law.
If New Brunswick’s City Council passes a paid sick leave ordinance and Cahill signs it into law soon, the city could become the tenth in New Jersey to mandate paid time off.
Nine other cities, including the state’s three most populated communities, have adopted ordinances mandating paid sick leave.
“We agreed to work with the Mayor and Council on the next steps of the process,” wrote Unity Square. “We hope to bring a final ordinance to Council for approval within the next two to three months.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.