CAMDEN — In response to a suit filed late last month by a coalition of activists, officials with the City of Camden say they will introduce an ordinance requiring companies to disclose how many residents they hire, a move the activists called “a major victory.”
The plaintiffs — Ayinde B. Merrill, Faheem Lea, Ronsha A. Dickerson, Margarita Gonzalez, and Emma Nea, all Camden residents — say they petitioned the city to craft an ordinance that would compel large companies, many of which have benefited from tax breaks and other perks, to disclose how many city residents they employ.
The city said in a news release earlier this week that Mayor Vic Carstarphen would work with City Council President Angel Fuentes to adopt an ordinance to do just that. On Thursday, the city said Council “collectively thought (the petition) had merit and substance.”
“Make no mistake, we think this is a great idea,” the city said in Thursday’s statement. “Nevertheless, we did not feel that the language of the submitted legislation went far enough in the collection of data as to employment and compensation and benefits in the City.”
City legislators wanted to “take a more holistic approach to the global collection of data, and we don’t believe only seeking information about 40-hour-a-week salaried workers provides a significant representation of good corporate citizenship in Camden,” the statement continued.
Companies should be required to provide “a variety of details,” including healthcare and prescription access, whether and in what ways companies are reinvesting in Camden, and whether they foster volunteer opportunities for employees in Camden.
The City of Camden, named as a defendant along with city clerk Luis Pastoriza and Camden County Clerk Joseph Ripa, “wrongfully joined with Pastoriza in denying” the petition, the suit alleges, and failed to schedule a public hearing on the ordinance.
The petition, the plaintiffs said, was submitted in June “in an effort to alleviate the well-known gloom and economic misery in Camden,” and “crafted an ordinance which, among other things, will result in would-be employees receiving valuable information about which employers are willing to hire Camden residents for fair pay, whether for initial construction work, or longer-term jobs or careers.”
Such information, the plaintiffs said, “would help with future City regulatory and financial decision making and public input into that decision making.”
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More than 1,200 people signed the petition, but the city said in an email that 529 were valid, short of the required 745 signatures. A supplemental petition included 1,422 signatures, with Pastoriza verifying 233, bringing the total number to 762.
The ordinance, which will include businesses and nonprofits with more than 25 employees operating in the city, was presented to a City Council caucus; it will be read and voted on at the Aug. 9 City Council meeting. Companies would have to disclose how many city residents they employ, and the salary ranges for those employees.
“Creating opportunity and hiring local residents is a top priority of my administration,” said Carstarphen in the statement released by the city. “Obtaining this information will help to provide us with the detailed data we need in order to make informed strategic policy decisions aimed at hiring even more Camden residents.”
“We must do everything within our power to collect necessary and complete data, to assess the extent Camden residents are being hired and are fully included in Camden’s economic revival,” Fuentes added.
Dickerson, one of the plaintiffs and a member of Camden We Choose, a coalition of city residents and activists, told the Courier-Post Thursday that she was “in shock” when she heard the city’s response to the suit.
“But I’m also extremely excited to see some alignment between city government and residents,” added Dickerson. “It’s a step in the right direction, but the bottom line is, what we as residents are asking for is not a lot.”
Crediting canvassers who went out to knock on doors and collect signatures during a brutally hot summer, she said the petition “is not about jobs; it’s about people in Camden who deserve to live in a good place, to maintain our quality of life, to have a place to be and live and work and worship like anyone else.”
In a release Thursday, Camden We Choose and New Jersey Working Families Party said that their “advocates scored a major victory against the corrupt Camden political machine after city elected officials changed course and threw their support behind an effort to force large employers to disclose their local hiring practices.”
“This is a major victory for Camden residents fighting for economic justice and inclusion in New Jersey’s poorest city,” said Antoinette Miles, New Jersey Working Families’ political director. Activists will be “closely reviewing” the ordinance, the release added, to ensure its compliance with state law so that it does not “serve as a poison pill that could make the legislation vulnerable to a legal challenge.”
City officials said Thursday they “will continue to work towards providing critical opportunities and access to employers hiring Camden residents.”
Phaedra Trethan has been a reporter and editor in South Jersey since 2007 and has covered Camden and surrounding areas since 2015, concentrating on issues relating to quality of life and social justice for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. She’s called South Jersey home since 1971. Contact her with feedback, news tips or questions at email@example.com, on Twitter @By_Phaedra, or by phone at 856.486-2417.
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