ELIZABETH, NJ — The city of Elizabeth is poised to become the first city in Union County, and just the 10th in New Jersey, to enact a paid sick leave law as early as the end of the month.
The process of adding paid sick leave has taken about 18 months, according to Analilia Mejia, the executive director of New Jersey Working Families, but the end result for Elizabeth is on the horizon.
A public ordinance supporting it, which Mejia said received more than 2,000 signatures from Elizabeth residences, is set to be voted on by the city in a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 17.
And if struck down, the ordinance will go before voters on Wednesday, Nov. 4, as a ballot initiative.
“Frankly, in just over a week we collected over 2,000 signatures, more than what we needed to get it on the ballot in Elizabeth. Either way, we feel confident that before year’s end, Elizabeth workers are going to be able to earn time to care for themselves,” said Mejia. “In the past 18 months, New Jersey Working Families have worked with local partners to get earned sick day ordinances passed in nine municipalities. In Elizabeth, we had some outreach from local partners and local activists, who were really interested in seeing Elizabeth becoming the 10th city to adopt a local mandate.”
The reasons for why residents want paid sick leave, said Mejia, are outlined in the petition, which was co-authored by five mothers in Elizabeth.
Among the basic points are that most workers or their family members will naturally get sick, even if they don’t have paid sick leave; offering paid sick leave will prevent workers and students from spreading illnesses; it will reduce healthcare expenditures, by promoting access to primary and preventive care; it’s good for businesses, as it reduces staff turnover and the costs of finding new labor; and it helps protect low-wage workers from devastating time off.
“We’ve been doing it at the statewide level, and at the local level, to help people care for themselves, or their family members, if they get sick. Everyone catches a cold, gets the flu — if you have children, you know that they’re going to get sick once or twice during the school year,” said Mejia. “For low-wage workers, more often than not, if they do not have access to paid time off if they get ill, or to take care of a family member, it really does put them in an economic tailspin. For most low-wage workers, missing just three days of work can mean losing the resources to afford a month’s worth of groceries.”
The petition also says that only one in five of the lowest-income workers, or about 21 percent, have access to paid sick time, even though it’s a feature that can help businesses rather than hurt them, said Mejia. When people are able to stay home and rest, or take care of a sick child rather than sending that child to school, it’s a win-win for everyone, she added.
There are another nine cities that have enacted paid sick leave, said Mejia, including cities in Essex County like Bloomfield, Montclair and Newark, as well as Jersey City and Trenton, and often times the votes in those cases are overwhelmingly pro paid sick leave, said Mejia. In Trenton, the vote was 86 percent in favor, and in Montclair it was 75 percent.
The movement in Elizabeth may not go to a public vote, depending on the outcome of the special meeting. But either way, said Mejia, she expects Elizabeth to join that growing list of cities by the end of the year.
“I actually canvassed myself in Elizabeth, and I have to say it was really easy to get people to sign the petition. Folks were really excited about it,” said Mejia. “I actually had this one conversation with a woman who’s an HR Director in Jersey City, she said ‘I’m familiar with earned sick days, it’s a law in Jersey City, and as an HR Director it makes sense — and as a mom, I’m very supportive.’ I barely had to get the words out of my mouth to get her to sign.”