A pair of old antagonists, labor and business, are waging a battle in Trenton this week as the former works the legislature to pass paid family leave, while the latter hopes lawmakers scrap it completely.
"They will be discussing it in caucus on Thursday," said Joe Donnelly, spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, referring to HB 3812, which would extend state liability insurance to employees for up to ten weeks, enabling workers to care for themselves, a newborn or a sick relative. Funding would come from the workers contributing on average a dollar a week from their salaries.
The Senate version of the bill made it through the labor and appropriations committees, but Senate President Richard Codey said the Senate as a whole wouldn’t take action on it until he sees movement on the Assembly side.
That means it’s Speaker Joseph Roberts’ decision.
"They’re trying to get something moving by the end of the lame duck session," Donnelly said of the Assembly. "The Speaker has concerns, and is interested in moving the length of time from ten weeks to six weeks."
Lobbyists from both camps this week button-holed anyone in leadership, or the Assembly labor and appropriations committees to try to make their pro or con arguments.
"When it comes to the Assembly people, there are many of them who you’d think would be a slam dunk," said Ray Stever, president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, an ardent supporter of paid family leave. "But business is putting out the message that people would abuse the system."
The most aggressive outfit to work against Stever, AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech and others in the Time to Care Coalition, is the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ), which argues that the bill is a job killer.
"There’s only one other state right now that has paid family leave, and that’s California," said John Galandak, the organization’s president. "If a company is looking to expand or relocate here in New Jersey, they won’t come if this legislation passes."
Galandak doesn’t want a compromise. He wants the bill eliminated.
"This kind of thing shouldn’t be legislated," he said. "This is done at the bargaining table between the employer and the employee. Let the market decide. If one company provides a package that includes paid family leave and another does not, the company that provides the benefit has the edge."
Stever doesn’t want any kind of compromise either.
The labor leader wants ten weeks off for workers who need to care for a sick relative or another family crisis – not six, as in California. He also believes it’s critical to include all employees – not simply those in larger work forces.
"We can not stand idly by and let the big bullies of big business kill a bill that would allow companies with 50 employees or less to be carved out from receiving full benefits of the bill," he said. "The people of New Jersey need a fair chance to get help in their lives in a time of need."
Donnelly said Roberts neither likes the bill in its current form with 10 weeks of paid leave, not favors killing the bill.
"The Speaker has a responsibility to make sure that this bill strikes a middle ground that helps working families while protecting the competitive edge of our state’s business community," Donnelly said. "He believes caucus input on the bill is needed before any final decisions about posting it in this legislative session are made."