While having breakfast recently, I overheard one person saying to his companion, "Well, that's fine and good, but what is it that you do?" I don't recall the answer, but it prompted me to a new degree of self-reflection during our coronavirus pandemic.
One of the issues that have caused searing economic pain is the loss of income, causing financial disruption to families, especially to those in the lower or middle class. You may be asking what have I done, and what am I doing to help improve their economic condition during this present crisis?
Before I offer specific and much-needed legislative relief, I'd like to provide my self-assessment, both on what I do and my perspective on this broad topic. I have supported worker benefits since long before we knew about a coronavirus. Supporting the hard-working women and men has been the hallmark of my office. While words do matter tremendously, so do deeds. Here's a view of my recent legislative efforts in this vein.
S2279. Reinstatement of workers taking family leave during public health emergencies. This bill, which applies to companies with fewer than 30 employees, ensures that workers who pay for family leave insurance (FLI) will be able to return to work after taking FLI benefits. No one should suffer the loss of a job because they had to care for a loved one.
S2285. Provides paid leave without utilizing accumulated leave time for local government employees that meet certain conditions. This would apply to any employees whose absence is related to the COVID-19. We have read or heard every superlative used to describe the uniqueness of the coronavirus' impact. As a society, we should not expect or demand that our workers accept the undue hardship of losing accumulated leave time.
S2476. Concerns individual workers' compensation benefit for surviving dependents of employees deemed essential during the coronavirus pandemic. It provides a cost of living adjustment to the spouse or dependent's workers' compensation death benefit if the employee dies from the coronavirus. This mirrors to the extent possible the COLA already in place for benefits for dependents of public safety workers killed in the line of duty. These are our uncommon heroes who report to work, keeping our services operating under exceptional circumstances. We need to recognize this by not penalizing their families if an essential worker falls victim to the coronavirus.
S2310. Removes the exemption of 30 employees or less and reinstates protection for temporary disability insurance recipients regardless of an employer's number of employees. In short, we would treat everyone equally, irrespective of the number of employees a company has.
S2488. Allocates $50 million to the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development from federal government assistance to improve unemployment insurance benefit claims processing capabilities. Waiting for funds when you are legally eligible for them can be a tremendous strain. We've had an unprecedented number of claims. This bill would hasten the process to meet the demand.
If that person in the booth next to me had asked what do I do, well, I would humbly suggest that my "do" is the effort to protect, support, and assist my bosses in making their lives just a bit easier. And just maybe, a bit better.
I am realistic enough to understand that there is no single legislative "fix" that solves all the potential problems a worker might confront. I wish there were. But I have always been convinced that if we could introduce a range of initiatives with the idea of legally and morally protecting the rights of workers — especially during unforeseen or sudden disruptions — then we are closer to realizing the American dream in the workplace as it should be rather than what it is.
That’s my take, what’s yours?