The Democratic-sponsored “Back to Work NJ” legislation, an attempt to create jobs and bolster New Jersey’s economic growth was approved by the Assembly Monday by a vote of 47 to 32.
The bill, which received Democratic support and Republican opposition, moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate for consideration.
"Gov. Christie still has the chance to finally do the right thing and join Democrats in helping put New Jerseyans back-to-work,” Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex), a prime sponsor, said. "This is an innovative program that will allow out-of-work New Jerseyans to develop the skills to stay in the workforce in the face of unemployment. It will help workers and businesses alike to jumpstart our economy and move our state forward.”
Christie, who vetoed similar legislation earlier this year, has his own plans to create jobs and help the economy.
The bill (A-4332) is based on a the success of a similar program in Georgia. President Obama has also included the concept in his job creation package.
According to statistics compiled by the Georgia Department of Labor, 10,589 people participated in Georgia Works from February 2003 until January 2010. Of that number, 6,105 completed training and 3,363 were hired either during or at the end of their training. An additional 1,170 people found work within 90 days of completing training.
The bill permits an eligible laid off worker to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits while placed in on-the-job training with an eligible employer for a maximum of 24 hours per week for up to six weeks. The legislation also provides each trainee up to $100 per week to help defray training-related costs, including transportation, clothing and child care. The program is voluntary for both laid off workers and employers.
The proposal also requires the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to monitor eligible participants and eligible employers who participate to ascertain whether the training provided by the program complies with the requirements. If the department determines that an employer has a repeated pattern of using eligible participants as unpaid labor without hiring them as employees, or otherwise fails to comply with the requirements, the department may impose penalties and shall disqualify the employer from further participation.
The measure appropriates $3 million from the state budget for payments to eligible participants for purposes of defraying the costs of workplace training, the compensation provided to eligible participants for purposes of workers' compensation and oversight of the program, but the state Office of Legislative Services estimates it will cost less - approximately $2.2 million a year.
Sponsors noted the program also will result in unemployment claimants securing paid employment sooner than they otherwise would have, thus reducing unemployment benefit costs.
“We know this program works, is cost-effective and can provide a real boost to out-of-work residents who have been looking for another chance to rejoin the workforce for far too long,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said. "At this point, the only reason to oppose it is partisan politics, and that's just wrong. We all need to come together and do what's best for our residents to create jobs and grow our economy."
“This is a program that benefits everyone, giving employers an opportunity to train potential employees and giving workers that chance to decide if the job is a good fit for them and prove themselves,” Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin (D-Middlesex) said. “We need to focus on creating jobs, and we must do it in a way that helps our out-of-work middle-class. This program is a responsible and creative approach to do just that while helping employers, too.”
“We need programs like this to help workers and businesses emerge strong from this economy," Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) said. "This program is so exciting because it gives working class New Jerseyans an opportunity to get hands-on training that can improve their job skills and make themselves more attractive to potential employers. That's especially vital in this economy."
“Job creation must be our top priority, and when it comes to proven programs like this, we need to put politics aside and do what’s best for working class residents in this very difficult economy,” Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer) added. “We have to think of new ways to create jobs and economic development, and that’s why this program is worth a try. A 9.1 percent jobless rate is unacceptable.”
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM