The Star-Ledger

Move On Paid Family Leave

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The viability of a very worthwhile paid family leave bill is being threatened by a relentless Chicken Little attack from the state's business community, which argues that passage would cause the sky to fall on scores of small companies and mom-and-pop operations across the state.

Whether the proposal continues to live could well be settled today when the Assembly's Democratic caucus takes up the issue and decides whether it should move forward.

For us, there is no question that it should.

It's hard to understand how those who espouse family values and profess to have compassion for working families could scuttle the measure. What's wrong with allowing a worker to take time off to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child or an ill relative?

Oddly enough, there are objections even though the program would not cost the state or businesses a dime and would impose no new requirements on companies employing fewer than 50 workers.

The program would be funded through a payroll de duction – probably $1 or less a week. The money would be enough to allow a worker to receive two-thirds of his salary up to a maximum of $502 a week. Small businesses would have to allow for the paid leave program only if they already offer voluntary unpaid leave. Small firms would not be required to hold positions open. And workers planning to take a leave would have to give 30 days' no tice, providing employers plenty of time to find a replacement if necessary.

Another major objection centered on the length of the paid leave. Initially, workers were to get 12 weeks. That was reduced to 10 weeks, and now Gov. Jon Corzine and others are willing to whittle that down even further – to six weeks.

Over the years, each at tempt to improve conditions for workers was met with dire predictions similar to those being voiced now by the business community. The 40-hour workweek and the minimum wage, it was said, would ruin the nation's economy. That forecast turned out to be as wrong as Chicken Little's.

Lawmakers need to recognize that today's workplace is considerably different from that of just a few decades ago. Workplace rules need to reflect that reality. A paid family leave program does just that.

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