Prompted by the financial crisis stemming from Wall Street’s wave of bankruptcies, including Toys ‘R’ Us, New Jersey legislators are taking the lead in protecting working families

Trenton, NJ — Today, New Jersey Senators approved the Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill (S3170), paving the way to become the first state in the country to protect working families from financial crisis when their company goes bankrupt and eliminates jobs. Currently, there is no law in the country mandating companies to guarantee severance pay to employees affected by bankruptcy.

Prompted by the wave of bankruptcies in New Jersey, activists with Make the Road New Jersey and former and current Sears, Payless, and Toys ‘R’ Us employees with United for Respect pledged to hold Wall Street and corporate CEOs accountable for their recklessness and greed that left thousands of families without a job and without severance pay while executives got paid millions. United for Respect leaders worked with Senator Cryan to introduce the Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill and lobbied Senators and Assemblymembers for their support.

This year, nearly 9,300 people in New Jersey have lost their jobs —  including jobs in retail, pharmaceuticals, home lending and more  — and nearly 3,000 more people are expected to be laid off by early February 2020. The Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill addresses the lack of financial protection and would guarantee a week of severance pay for every year worked for all employees in addition to expanding notice of a layoff to 90 days, define severance pay as compensation, establish joint employer responsibility, protect employment for an extended period of time during the bankruptcy process and attempts to close loopholes like forced arbitration provisions which prevent workers from seeking civil remedies.

S3170’s companion bill, A5145 passed the Assembly Labor Committee last week and must now pass the next hurdle in the Assembly Floor before heading to the Governor’s desk.

New Jersey elected and community leaders released the following statements in response to today’s vote:

“When I lost my job at Sears, I vowed to hold Wall Street accountable and make sure working people like me didn’t have to live the same awful experience I did,” said Bruce Miller, a United for Respect leader and former Sears employee. “When my store closed down I lost my career, my financial security, and I was left feeling unappreciated for all of the years I helped the company profit. Wall Street is recklessly saddling retailers with debt, running them to the ground, and fleeing with millions of dollars in their pocket while working people like me are left with nothing. I applaud New Jersey for stepping in where Wall Street and corporate CEOs are failing. Our elected officials are putting working families first.”

“Today’s bill passage in the New Jersey State Senate gives us and low-income workers across New Jersey hope that when a recession hits  and our employers collapse or file for bankruptcy, we are not left with nothing to survive and take care of our families as we transition,” said Cesar de la Peña, a leader with Make the Road New Jersey and employee at Precision Escalator in Kenilworth, NJ. “To be left with nothing due to no fault of our own shows a complete lack of corporate accountability, and today the New Jersey State Senate took a promising step forward to make sure that the injustices faced by thousands of Toys R’ Us workers last year will not be borne by workers in the future.  If the Assembly passes this bill next month and if Governor Murphy signs it into law, this law will set the severance pay standard for the rest of the country. We appreciate Senator Cryan’s leadership in shepherding this bill and will work hard to make it a reality for working class communities across New Jersey!”

“Working people are the backbone of our economy and I’m proud to stand on the right side of history with them,” said Senator Cryan (D). “The store closures prompted by Wall Street’s get-rich-quick tactics pushed thousands of New Jerseyans into financial crisis, and many are still struggling today. While we always want our economy to thrive, we want to protect the workers who keep it churning no matter what happens. That is why, at the very least, working families need to be able to count on severance pay to get back on their feet. I look forward to my Assembly colleagues passing the Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill this session!”

Link to fact sheet on NJ Guaranteed Severance Pay Bill here.