NJ workers get paid to care for relatives

May 2, 2008 11:49:09 AM PDT
New Jersey on Friday became the third state to approve allowing workers to take paid leave from their jobs to care for a new child or sick relative. Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a bill letting New Jersey workers take up to six weeks off with pay.

The Democratic governor noted how his children spent time helping him recover from a near-fatal car crash just more than a year ago.

"When I was in the hospital after my accident last spring, it was the strong support from my family that kept me going," the multimillionaire governor said. "I was fortunate my family members had the flexibility to be there for me day-in and day-out, but not everyone has that luxury."

The legislation was backed by Democrats and labor unions and opposed by Republicans and businesses who called it a burden on employers.

The leave will be paid through a payroll deduction costing workers about $33 per year. Workers who take leave will get two-thirds of their salary, up to $524 per week.

Workers can begin taking paid leave on July 1, 2009. The state estimates 38,000 workers annually will use the program. New Jersey has 4.1 million workers.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, the bill's leading backer, said he knows firsthand that paid leave is necessary. His daughter was in intensive care after she was born four months premature. His employer allowed him to take time, but the Gloucester County Democrat said not everyone can do so.

"I could have had a difficult time balancing spending 75 days at the hospital with my newborn daughter or going to work to provide for my wife and young son," Sweeney said. "The new law is aimed at helping workers whose employers won't allow them to take this necessary leave time."

Another leading backer, Sen. Barbara Buono, recalled having heart palpitations as she anxiously awaited the baby sitter the day she was to return to work three weeks after having her first child.

"That was 25 years ago," said Buono, D-Middlesex, "Today we are all working harder, feeling more stressed by the competing demands of balancing work and family responsibilities."

Federal law allows some workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

California allows workers to take up to six weeks paid leave under a 2004 law.

Washington has approved allowing workers to take five weeks paid leave for a new child, but lawmakers haven't decided how to pay for the program that's supposed to start Oct. 1, 2009.

Debra Ness, the National Partnership for Women & Families president, predicts more states will adopt similar laws.

"As our economy struggles, it is especially important that lawmakers put in place these basic family friendly policies to help working families avoid financial catastrophe when illness strikes or new babies come," Ness said.

But opponents label the payroll deduction a new tax and fear it will increase if the initial amount doesn't provide enough money to cover its costs. And businesses say being forced to go without employees will make things more difficult during an economic downturn.

"We are astonished that the governor and the Legislature would impose a paid leave mandate on businesses that are already struggling to survive a recession," said Philip Kirschner, the New Jersey Business & Industry Association executive director. "This bill could not come at a worse time."

Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, R-Morris, called the plan "counterproductive" in a state beset by job losses.

"It imposes yet another tax on workers and places an additional burden on businesses," DeCroce said. "It could very well end up costing our state the very jobs these families depend on to make ends meet."

But Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs chairman, said he saw no reason why the bill would hurt businesses.

"I think it's a moral necessity that we take this up, and we are setting the standard across this country," he said. "It's a country that is far behind in accepting its responsibilities to make sure that we pay for these benefits at a time of need."


Load Comments