2015-03-04 / Editorial

Support paid sick days for New Jersey Families

RABBI LAWRENCE R. SERNOVITZ
Temple Emanuel

Across our state, workers struggle when it comes to their own health or the health of a loved one, a problem compounded by the lack of paid sick days that forces them to choose between their health and their job. Armando, a worker from a gas station in New Brunswick, has worked at a gas station in New Brunswick for three and a half years, on the job seven days a week with only one day off every three months. He does not have any paid sick days. When his wife needed an operation, his boss would not let Armando have a day off or leave work early to be with her.

There is no current New Jersey (or national) law that guarantees that workers like Armando will have access to paid sick days when they are ill, when their family members are not well, or when they need to deal with medical, legal, or relocation issues related to trauma, such as domestic violence or sexual assault. That leaves 1.2 million workers unprotected. Service sector employees are among the most vulnerable. Seventy-six percent of New Jersey workers do not have paid sick days. Workers in retail, nursing homes, and child care centers also largely have none.

As a rabbi, I am inspired by my tradition that, like other faiths, teaches the imperative to support and care for those who are ill. Every Shabbat, Jews around the world join together to say a prayer called the Mi Sheberach l’cholim, a prayer for those in need of healing of the body, mind or spirit. Bikkur Cholim, visiting the sick is among the highest mitzvot, obligations, within the Jewish tradition that one can fulfill. With no paid sick leave, however, many cannot attend to their own needs or their family’s medical needs.

Even in biblical times, protection for workers was a pressing issue. Scripture teaches that workers should earn a fair wage, and be treated humanely. We have veered sadly off course from our moral mandate.

Our state’s legislature is considering legislation to ensure that businesses with ten or more workers would allow employees to earn a minimum of 72 hours of paid time off, which they can use to stay home when sick. Businesses with less than 10 employees would be required to allow 40 hours of sick time, and a worker can earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Passing paid sick leave in New Jersey is the right and the smart thing to do. .

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