While six cities in New Jersey already have approved paid sick-leave laws, a vote on legislation proposed by a Camden County lawmaker to cover the entire state and a million or so workers has been delayed.

 

Supporters and opponents packed an Assembly Labor Committee hearing Thursday on a measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt allowing all Garden State employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Trenton resident Denerick Spaulding testified that a store where he worked during the holiday season would not let him leave to visit his dying grandmother.

"She was gasping for air while she was talking to me on the phone. We should not have to choose between supporting our families or holding on to our livelihoods," Spaulding said.

But Tony Russo of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey argued that companies should be able to set their own policies on sick time.

"We really believe that this issue -- as far as benefits, sick time -- is really a business decision and shouldn't be a government mandate," Russo said.

Opponents also say such a mandate would increase business costs. and curb their ability to be flexible.

"If an employee comes in who's sick or has a sick child, they try to be flexible as far as offering them other hours or switching time with someone else," said Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "And they're concerned that a formal sick leave policy like this will sort of push them into a corner and it will cost them a lot more money."

And an industry group argued that with sales and employment levels still not restored to pre-Recession levels, such a mandate would put an undue burden on businesses.

But Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, who leads New Jersey Citizen Action, offered a graphic illustration of the cost to customers.

"When you walk into a restaurant and you get your meal, you should think, who has sneezed into that special sauce that might be on your food or who has coughed in your linguini, because it might be a worker who is not allowed to take a paid sick day off and has come to work sick," she said.

A vote was delayed for consideration as Lampitt, D-Camden, agreed to consider possible amendments.