Poll: New Jerseyans Support Paid Family Leave

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gannett State Bureau

TRENTON — A poll released Wednesday reveals New Jerseyans support proposals to allow workers to extend family-leave benefits with pay to care for sick family members, newborns, and newly adopted children.

The Eagleton poll, conducted in late October, found 78 percent of those polled are in favor of family-leave insurance, which grants workers up to 12 weeks per year off from work while being paid up to two-thirds their salary.

Jon Shure, member of the New Jersey Time to Care coalition, a group that supports policies that help families balance work and home life, said resounding support shows that people desire some means of support when taking care of their families.

"As with any other insurance, you hope nobody gets sick. But if they do, you want to be able to take care of them," Shure said. "If you have a newborn child, or you adopt, or you take in a foster child, it's reasonable for you to spend some time to bond with them."

The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney, D-West Deptford, would expand the current Temporary Disability Insurance system to include family leave.

Unlike past proposals, it would be employee-funded with no employer match – with mandatory contributions ranging from 28 cents for a minimum-wage job to $1.71 per week.

If passed, New Jersey would be the second state to adopt such a system. California, currently the only state to have family-leave insurance, offers workers six weeks of leave with 55 percent of their pay.

Many in the business community have consistently opposed the idea, citing costs like temporary workers or overtime for current workers.

Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said the idea is not practical and would result in a loss of productivity, particularly in small businesses.

"This would heap another regulatory burden onto business and could really damage the business climate further than it is already," said Kirschner. "The work does not stop when someone decides to leave."

Supporters say the system would also grant small business equal footing in attracting employees by gaining benefits limited only to larger ones, and ease demands placed on low-income households who have to choose between family and paying the bills in a costly state like New Jersey.

Sweeney, who also heads the Senate Labor Committee, said both sides of the issue were consulted when proposing this bill.

"We listened to complaints, and we made the bill as fair as possible. The time for this bill has come," Sweeney said.

The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Labor Committee early next year.

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