Paid Sick Leave: NJFC continues to oppose onerous and prescriptive mandatory paid sick leave legislation for each New Jersey employee. The majority of NJFC employers already provide their employees with generous paid time off policies. Often this time off is not designated as “sick time,” but rather as vacation time, holiday time, or personal time off. The amount of time off provided often depends on tenure and job classification. Some of our member employers provide time off to their part time associates, and some allow their employees to carry days over to the next year, or to be paid for unused time off. There is clearly not a single standard procedure that works for every employer. While this bill allows for other fully paid leave that is accrued at a rate equal or greater to the rate in this bill, this leave must be provided in the same manner, with the same provisions, as stipulated in the bill. This is onerous and significantly limits employer flexibility. Another significant problem with this proposal is the lack of state preemption. There has been a significant increase in paid sick leave ordinances and ballot initiatives in various New Jersey cities this past year, and there are now eleven local ordinances throughout New Jersey. Some of our members have over 250 locations throughout New Jersey. It is very difficult and expensive for our members to comply with a patchwork of local laws.
Predictive Scheduling: NJFC opposes proposals which impose numerous onerous mandates pertaining to employee work schedules, particularly in the retail, food service or cleaning industries. This bill would allow an employee to request a change to his or her work schedule because of a serious health condition, his or her responsibility as a caregiver, or due to enrollment in a career related educational or training program. An employer with 15 or more employees would be required to consider these requests and respond in writing. An employer is required to provide a retail, food service or cleaning employee with a written work schedule and provide 14 days advance notice of a new work schedule. An employer is required to provide a retail, food service or cleaning employee with one additional hour of pay for each day the employee works a split shift or for each shift that is changed with less than 24 hours notice. The employer must post a notice of these provisions. This bill provides for penalties of $500 to $5,000 and civil action. This bill does not preempt local or county initiatives. This legislation would create an undue and expensive burden on employers and does not provide employers with flexibility. There is not a single standard procedure regarding scheduling that works for every employer. Employers need to be able to consider their business operations and their customers’ needs.
Disposable Bag Policies: The Food Council is moving forward with a progressive approach on bag issues after taking a hardline position opposing plastic bag bans. We believe a solution to improving sustainability and solid waste management efforts can be achieved through a carefully crafted bag bill and if implemented properly, the results can have favorable environmental benefits, cut down on the usage of bags, and generate funds for an environmental cause while having little negative impact on retailers. As more municipalities consider their own actions on single-use bags, the Food Council evaluated the bag debate through a strategic planning process and recognized now is the time to implement a statewide uniform standard with specific perimeters.
After much research, member input and strong consideration, NJFC is supporting A-3671 which is moving through the NJ Legislature. The bill has been amended significantly and now closely mirrors a program implemented in Montgomery County, MD. The findings demonstrate that a carefully crafted bag fee can have the intended environmental benefit while having little negative impact on retailers.
NJFC is still vehemently opposed to any local action in this area.
Food Waste Recycling: NJFC has concerns with bills which require composting or recycling of food waste by large volume generators. Over the last few decades there have been major advances in the recycling industry that have created an emerging marketplace for both waste generators and recyclers. Some of our members have voluntarily instituted food waste composting programs when facilities are available. Our food retailers operate on very small margins of approximately one percent, and the 25 mile threshold in this legislation may be too far for our members to transport waste in a cost effective manner. New Jersey does not have the necessary infrastructure to implement this mandate as there are very few operational, approved food waste recycling facilities in this state, and it is unlikely such infrastructure will exist in less than two years.
Ammonia Refrigeration: NJFC is advocating for legislation which removes anhydrous ammonia as a substance regulated by the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA). This bill also exempts operators of any refrigerating plant utilizing anhydrous ammonia from NJDOL licensing requirements. This bill eliminates the unnecessary state regulation of ammonia refrigeration operations, with the understanding that the federal regulatory and enforcement framework is better suited to protect the public and environment from any potential harm caused by anhydrous ammonia refrigeration operations in the state. Duplicative layers of regulation at various governmental levels are costly and onerous. New Jersey is one of a handful of states that require this duplicate regulation, putting this state at a competitive disadvantage and discouraging certain industries from locating in New Jersey. Additionally, ammonia refrigeration systems have automatic safety and monitoring equipment, making the operator licensing requirements unnecessary.
Transportation Trust Fund: As representatives of the food distribution industry, a significant commercial user of transportation in our corridor state, NJFC recognizes the need for a reliable transportation system to safely and efficiently move food products and supplies, many of which are perishable. We take this issue very seriously, and fully recognize the urgency of dealing with New Jersey’s outdated infrastructure, and being vigilant that constitutionally dedicated sources of revenue are used solely for capital infrastructure. This is why we support legislation which proposes to amend the State Constitution to ensure that all the revenue from the state’s gas taxes are permanently dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). While it is important to carefully consider various revenue options, we do not want our food retail and distribution members to disproportionately bear the costs of funding. NJFC could support a gradual, modest phase-in of a gas tax increase which would be constitutionally dedicated for the sole purpose of supporting the Transportation Trust Fund. NJFC could not support indexing a gas tax increase to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or a 7 percent sales tax on gasoline because of fuel price volatility.
Motor Carrier: NJFC opposes proposals which create a presumption that a work arrangement in the drayage trucking or parcel delivery trucking industry is an employer-employee relationship unless the party receiving the services can overcome the legal presumption of employment. This bill would potentially eliminate thousands of independent contractor jobs and force companies to hire these contractors as employees even though the owner operators have already made the choice to operate independently. As a result, companies would experience increased payroll and benefit costs. The majority of food retailers in New Jersey operate on very tight margins, typically 1 percent, and would be challenged by these cost increases. These owner operators are critical elements in the distribution chain, and increasing the costs of their labor would ultimately result in increased cost of goods, including food.
Liquor License Reform: NJFC supports legislation which gradually increases the cap on the number of retail liquor licenses a business can own in New Jersey from two to ten over a period of ten years. The current two license limit is an antiquated restriction that stifles economic growth and tax revenues. This legislation modernizes New Jersey’s liquor licensing laws without changing the current three tier system or increasing the total number of licenses issued by a municipality. This bill provides food retailers with the opportunity to gradually acquire additional licenses, grow their sales, offer their customers the convenience of buying food and liquor in the same place, and compete on a more level playing field with chain package goods stores that typically have franchise arrangements.
Moreover, consumers want this type of reform. A poll conducted by The Monmouth University Polling Institute found that among people who actively purchase alcohol, 76 percent want the convenience of buying beer, wine, and spirits in supermarkets.
Liquor License Restrictions: NJFC opposes legislation which places new restrictions on retailers who sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption. A recent proposal revises the formula for issuing certain plenary retail consumption licenses, which are the licenses issued to bars and restaurants that authorize them to serve alcoholic beverages. Under this bill, plenary retail consumption licenses with broad package privileges (the right to sell package goods in an area beyond the principal public barroom) would be counted with plenary retail distribution licenses for purposes of the statutory population limitation.
Another proposal requires food retailers to display and sell alcoholic beverages on a separate premise that is situated directly adjacent to the food store. The areas designated for selling alcohol are required to have a separate entrance and exit, but allow for a doorway that leads directly to and from the food store floor area. The doorway is to be equipped with a sliding or swinging door of not greater than eight feet in width. A separate cash register is to be located in the designated area reserved for the sale of alcoholic beverages that is programmed to remind the cashier to request that a purchaser show proof of age. The bill also prohibits a retailer who acquires a new license from being located within 2,500 feet of another licensed retail premises. This bill also establishes certain financial reporting, age, and residency requirements for licensed retailers.
GMO Labeling: The Food Council and a coalition of organizations have concerns with a proposal that implements a strict mandatory GMO labeling program at the state level. Instead, NJFC supports a voluntary retailer response to consumer demand. Consumers who prefer non-GMO foods already have the option of purchasing foods that are voluntarily labeled GMO-free or labeled USDA certified organic. It is difficult and expensive for the food retail and distribution industry to comply with divergent state laws. NJFC supports a single federal law rather than a patchwork of state laws which would significantly increase the cost of food. That is why we support the federal Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act which is advancing through Congress. NJFC advocates for a state legislative resolution which urges enactment of this federal legislation which received Assembly Committee approval.
Striped Bass: NJFC supports legislation which allows wild striped bass to be processed, transported and sold in New Jersey. Current state law prohibits the commercial catching and sale of wild striped bass. Additionally, this fish cannot be processed in retail distribution centers in New Jersey while in transit to stores in states where the sale is allowed. Many other states in our region allow for the commercial fishing and sale of striped bass. New Jersey’s complete commercial ban puts our state at a competitive disadvantage and denies our consumers the opportunity to buy this fish. This common sense legislation promotes consumer choice and economic growth.
There are numerous bill proposals that increase taxes on employers, including proposed increases to the income tax, the Corporate Business Tax, and development taxes. These types of cost increases have a chilling effect on New Jersey’s business community and economy at a time when this state is struggling to attract business and job growth. Food retailers, food distributors and other NJFC members cannot grow jobs and expand their investment in this state if their costs continue to rise. This is particularly troubling for our member stores who are going into food deserts which are sorely in need of new stores. Policymakers should focus on ways to decrease the tax burden on employers and make New Jersey’s business climate more competitive. NJFC supports proposals to repeal or reduce the state’s estate and inheritance taxes. At a time when the majority of other states are taking steps to repeal, phase out, or raise the threshold on their respective “death” taxes, New Jersey remains an outlier as one of only two states with both an estate and an inheritance tax.