Watchdog flier attacks Trenton councilwoman for paid sick leave stance

Screencap of the NJ Citizen Action flier.

Screencap of the NJ Citizen Action flier.

TRENTON — A leaflet blasting a Trenton councilwoman for her vote on a recent paid sick leave measure is making the rounds in the capital city’s North Ward today.

NJ Citizen Action, self-labeled the “state’s largest citizen watchdog coalition,” is passing out the fliers to Trenton residents accusing North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell Wilson of “attacking” a successful voter referendum last month requiring businesses provide paid sick days to employees. They also said she abstained from a vote when the measure went in front of city council, forcing it onto the Nov. 4th ballot.

From the flier:

“Last month, 86% of Trenton North Ward residents voted to ensure ALL Trenton workers have access to paid sick days. Before our vote, more than half of Trenton’s private sector workers had NO paid sick days. We voted for CHANGE. We voted for a better, healthier Trenton.

The next day, our Councilwoman, Marge Caldwell Wilson attacked OUR vote. She said it wasn’t ‘very well thought out.’

Marge Caldwell Wilson was a public employee her entire career. The LAW gave her 15 paid sick days every year. But Marge Caldwell Wilson thinks ensuring Trenton’s workers earn 5 paid sick days is not ‘very well thought out.'”

Trenton is the sixth city in New Jersey to adopt paid sick leave. The law entitles private sector workers one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, and, in businesses with 10 or more employees, up to five sick days per year. For those with fewer than 10 employees, workers are eligible to earn three paid sick days in a year.

Yet the measure — which some would like to adopt statewide — has become increasingly controversial in the legislature. Even proponents of paid sick leave have railed against allowing individual cities to adopt the law on their own, arguing that it could create an unfair playing field for businesses and employees. A bill adopting the measure statewide was passed by the Assembly in October. 

Contacted for comment, Caldwell Wilson said that’s exactly why she’s kept off supporting the initiative in Trenton.

“Right now Trenton is the only municipality in Mercer County forcing the businesses to do this, and Trenton will have to be responsible for the costs of enforcing it, for putting it in place. Whereas if it was a statewide initiative, the could would be on the state,” she said, adding that she’d like to see the legislature “push a statewide initiative and they need to force the governor’s hand on it.”

Gov. Chris Christie, for his part, is largely understood to be opposed to the idea.

“I’m not opposed to workers getting sick time — I would never be opposed to that,” Caldwell, a Scottish-born labor leader in the city, told PolitickerNJ. “But I’m waiting to see how this rolls out in the city of Trenton. It’s also my concern that if any small businesses have an interest in coming to Trenton, that if they have a choice of being somewhere where they’re not forced to do that, they’re going to do that and not come here. That to me is important — you need an even playing field. I want to see all workers have the availability of that, not just in certain towns.”

But Ann Vardeman, an organizer for NJ Citizen Action, said they want to see Caldwell Wilson support the law, passed by her constituents — not just watch to see how it plays out. She said NJ Citizen Action also supports a statewide paid sick leave law, but that this issue is about standing by local Trenton residents.

“However in the now 18 months since the bill was first introduced, there are people in Trenton, the single mother living in the North Ward of Trenton, who’s lost her job because her kid got sick and now she needs to stay home,” Vardeman said. “Paid sick days are incredibly important and what you would want out of you elected officials is to want to provide these protections.”

“Marge Caldwell Wilson, at the same time other progressive city council around the state were passing this on their own, she stood in the way of that,” Vardeman added, noting that the Trenton initiative passed “overwhelmingly” in Caldwell Wilson’s own ward.

Watchdog flier attacks Trenton councilwoman for paid sick leave stance