Because some City Council members had reservations about a pair of proposed ordinances regulating the work conditions of employees in the city’s larger buildings, the ordinances labeled “Better Jobs Act” have been tabled and their future is unclear.
One of the ordinances introduced earlier this month would require companies providing janitorial and other services to guarantee that their employees work at least 30 hours per week. This would make workers eligible for overtime, and possibly health and other benefits.
The proposal is part of a recent trend in cities regulating conditions of people who work for private employers.
The second ordinance was meant to require service companies to retain newly-hired workers for 90 days on a trial basis, giving those workers time to prove themselves to the new company. But at the May 9 council caucus meeting, some members learned that the second ordinance would force companies to keep those employees indefinitely.
Council President Rolando Lavarro, who proposed the two ordinances, said that under the provisions of the ordinance, current employees could only be let go “for cause,” meaning if they did something wrong or failed to do their job properly.
This revelation was of concern to several council members who previously supported the ordinance, including Councilmember Candice Osborne.
Osborne said she was concerned about the broader restriction.
Councilman Richard Boggiano, who voted against the ordinances when introduced last month, said government should not be interfering with businesses.
Although the laws were scheduled for public hearing and final adoption at the May 11 meeting, the City Council voted to table both before the public could comment. Council members said the matters would be reviewed for possible reintroduction at some future date.
Had strong union support
Both ordinances have the strong support of unions representing janitors and cleaners, and they lobbied Lavarro to get both ordinances introduced.
“In order to get by, families in Jersey City need both sufficient wages and sufficient hours,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ SEIU vice president and NJ State director. “The Better Jobs Act more deliberately matches the building service sector’s demand for labor with the needs of families.
The benefits of full-timing workers are many, from less turnover and absenteeism, to a higher level of commitment and willingness to put in extra effort. We need to mandate full-time work because there will always be low-road employers who put cost-savings over productivity and worker morale. Full-time work makes sense and we should require it here in Jersey City.”
Lobbying against the ordinances was New Jersey Apartment Association Executive Director David Brogan.
“Establishing a mandatory minimum 30-hour work week would actually hurt employees who currently choose to work part-time to supplement their income, pursue an education, or care for their families,” Brogan said. “These ordinances will force employers to cut jobs, not create them. This is regrettable given the fact that up until now, Jersey City has made significant strides to incentivize both job creation and investment. I fear that the passage of these ordinances will undermine all of the good work the city has done and all the good will the city has garnered over the past several years.”
Ordinance to control noise
Although members of the council had some questions about a proposed noise ordinance, members voted to adopt strict state guidelines as local regulations.
Up until the adoption of the ordinance, the city had no enforceable ordinance dealing with certain types of construction and other noise. Any noise ordinance that municipalities adopt must be approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). If a municipality deviates from the state’s strict requirements, the DEP may not approve it.
Osborne said residents had two concerns. First, that the new ordinance might allow outside construction to be done on weekends, something currently prohibited under a zoning ordinance. She was also concerned about the impact of the ordinance on performance spaces, where live music might be played.
City officials said construction noise under the proposed noise ordinance would limit sound to the level of a human voice whether or not the construction was indoors or out.
Current construction limitations on outdoor construction on weekends would remain in place as well.
A petition signed by a number of performance venues, including Art House Productions, Brightside, Healy’s Tavern, Chic Pea Productions, White Eagle Hall, PJ Ryans, White Start, Transmission, Bistro and others, asked the council to table the ordinance in order to find some way to modify it to allow performances to take place.
“We believe that we should look across the river to New York City for the best example on how to deal with sound and its measurement as it pertains to the entertainment industry,” said Howard Brunner, owner of Transmission, a dance/rock club located in the Power House Arts District. “The new ordinance, by some measure, is more demanding than in the New York City ordinance,” he said.
Council members, however, sided with Boggiano, saying the ordinance is needed to protect residents from unwarranted construction noise. Boggiano said the council may be able to modify it later once it is in place.
The city is poised to become the first city in the nation to team up with Google to provide an on-line map to alert residents of street closures.
This would be of no cost to the city, but the city zoning officials would have to put the information into a form that would allow Google to read it.
Google would also provide additional information.
While this might well be used to accommodate public functions such as festivals and fairs that result in street closing, the initial proposal would be tied into the zoning permit process. Any permit issued would be registered on Google and allow someone to know where and when a street might be closed.
City may hire a consultant for surveillance cameras
City Council members may authorize hiring a special consultant to review its street camera system as part of a public safety initiative.
Public Safety Director James Shea said last month that many of the more than 60 cameras installed in the past are not working or were never turned on. Many were also located in the wrong parts of the city.
The council is planning to introduce a capital improvements ordinance that would modernize and relocate cameras.
The current system, however, is so antiquated that it not worth upgrading. Also these cameras were paid for under Homeland Security funds, and any new proposal would look to use grants, capital improvement and other funds.
Osborne said any new system would need to have an open platform that would allow access to public safety, but also have the potential to allow city public safety employees to access other private business cameras if needed.
“We can’t fix the cameras we have,” said Coleman. “We really need a tech person to make sure that these new cameras are not out of date five years from now, the way the ones we have now are.”
Boggiano said he was unhappy with the current firm, saying that many of the cameras were not turned on, and that when the firm tried to fix those that are working they did not tell the city it was largely a waste of money to fix them.
Shea said the cameras were originally set up in various Special Improvement District zones using federal Homeland Security funds. But these were never placed in areas where they were needed most to fight crime.
The new camera plan would install more up to date cameras in areas where they will give police the most information, he said.
He said the department is putting together a crime map in Jersey City, which will allow the cameras to be better located.
“We need a new system,” Shea said. “Right now what we’re doing is a band aid. Repairing the existing system is throwing good money after bad.”
Apparently offices in the basement of the new west side police station have been unable to use cellular phones. Verizon, city officials said, will be upgrading the site free to increase signals to the basement area.