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Jersey City May Require Paid Sick Leave

September 3, 2013

Calling it a matter of “basic human dignity,” the mayor of Jersey City wants to require all but the smallest businesses to provide their employees paid sick days.

The bill would make the city, which is New Jersey’s second largest, the first in the state and one of the few nationwide to require paid sick leave. It is modeled on similar laws enacted in several cities over the last several years.

But it would go further than most, requiring any business with 10 or more employees to provide up to five paid sick days each year. Companies with fewer employees would have to provide five unpaid sick days.

In contrast, a bill passed by the New York City Council this year — after a veto by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — will require employers with 20 or more employees to provide paid sick leave when it takes effect next year; the following year, it will extend to workplaces with 15 or more employees. The city exempted manufacturers, as does a state law in Connecticut that requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide paid sick leave.

The policy proposed by Mayor Steven Fulop in Jersey City would not include that exemption. As in other cities, workers would earn a day of sick time for each 30 days worked.

Mr. Fulop, who worked in his parents’ deli in Newark when he was growing up, said he had fashioned his proposal so as not to hurt the businesses, like bodegas or start-ups, that struggle most.

“But once you get to a point that you have a stable work force, with 10 or more people,” he said, “it’s a reasonable thing to say they shouldn’t be at risk for losing their jobs or penalized if unfortunately they get sick or a loved one does.”

As financial firms have moved across the Hudson River, Jersey City has become more affluent; Mr. Fulop, 36, first moved there to work for Goldman Sachs. But he said the policy was aimed particularly at helping lower-wage workers.

“It’s an opportunity to make sure that employers who move here are conscious of this basic dignity for working families,” Mr. Fulop said.

The mayor, who was sworn in on July 1, will propose the bill to the City Council next week; its chances are considered good, given that the majority of the members are aligned with him.

A coalition of community and union groups is pushing the bill as a matter of good public health: food service workers who can stay home are less likely to spread germs, as are sick children whose parents can stay home with them, thanks to the bill.

“We think that people understand that it’s important for workers not to have to choose between taking care of their loved ones and a day’s pay,” said Kevin Brown, a vice president of a local service workers union.

In other cities that have debated paid sick leave, opponents have argued that it is too expensive, particularly for small businesses. While Portland, Ore.; Washington; and San Francisco have all passed paid sick-leave policies, about a half-dozen states have passed laws prohibiting municipalities from doing so. But studies have shown that most employers ultimately support the policy, and report that it has not made them less profitable.