Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paid Sick Days affair a lose-lose for everyone?

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop signs their paid sick days
ordinance in a supportive business location.
No such scenario for Plainfield, for now anyway.

It's hard to see how anyone comes out a winner in Plainfield's bruising brush with the latest fad in social legislation.

City Council failed to approve a paid sick days measure last night in a 3-3 standoff. Councilors Williams, Storch and Brown voted for the ordinance; Rivers, Taylor and Toliver withdrew their support and voted "no". Councilor Greaves was not present. See coverage by the Courier (here) and Bernice (here).

The law would have mandated private employers to provide some paid sick days to employees through a formula based on how many hours they worked. Enforcement was to be complaint-based and violators would face penalties (up to $2,000 for the obdurate) and shaming by having their names made public.

Plainfield would have become the tenth community in New Jersey to enact the legislation, which is also being pushed -- far less successfully -- at the state level.

I sensed danger right from the start when the ordinance was introduced in February.

There was almost no discussion before the Council passed it unanimously on first reading. There was a noticeable lack of groundswell from employees who would benefit from the legislation, which was pitched from a public health perspective (sick employees shouldn't come to work and make others and the public sick). There was no crowd of business people speaking out, for or against.

That was to change dramatically.

After being mobilized by Dairy Queen's Donna Albanese, merchants in the SID and the Plainwood Square Merchants Association came out in droves in March, complaining they hadn't been consulted.

Supporters in the form of labor unions and advocates, almost all from out of town, pushed back with well-reasoned arguments in favor.

Council put the brakes on and tabled the ordinance until last night's April business meeting.

Here we have a case of advocates helicoptering in without having a noticeable ground game, the key to success in the long haul. Will they abandon Plainfield's low-wage workers now that the easy victory has eluded their grasp?

Thinking back to the pay-to-play ordinance of a few years ago, I wonder if there's a parallel. A do-good organization sent some shock troops in, pumped up the discussion, got the resolution passed and then disappeared, after notching one up on their holster.

On the other hand, local businesses don't come off looking very good in this, either. Consider their primary goals: reducing the penalties and avoiding public naming.

While some do offer sick days to employees, most don't. Which means that these low-wage workers are faced with the lose-lose options of coming in to work sick, with all the risks to themselves, their co-workers and the public; or staying home without pay and trying to figure out how they're going to feed the kids and pay the bills, and whether they might lose their job.

For now, everyone loses. But Plainfield can do better. Let's hope that if the ordinance comes back a second time, there is more advance work, that forward-looking businesses that see the benefits are recruited in advance to be supporters of the cause and that the Council thinks things through before moving ahead.

Those could be the preconditions for a win-win outcome for everyone next time around.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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