NJ plan for $15 minimum wage too slow and weak, advocates cry
NOTE: The Monday meeting of the Assembly Labor Committee was postponed on Sunday night, after the wife of committee chairman Assemblyman Joseph Egan died. The hearing was not immediately rescheduled.
TRENTON — Lawmakers are expected to cast their first votes Monday on a blueprint for incrementally raising the hourly minimum wage to $15, but final approval of the bill wouldn’t come until the end of January at the earliest.
Progressive groups quickly criticized the bill for not reaching $15 an hour for some groups of workers until 2029.
Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, introduced the legislation Thursday and scheduled it for an Assembly Labor Committee vote Monday. The bill would then head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee and not be ready for the Dec. 17 voting session, pushing it off to the next session, Jan. 31.
“It’s an issue whose time has come. You know, New Jersey is a high-cost state, high-value state, and our current minimum wage is insufficient today,” Coughlin said. “With the exception of Pennsylvania, which differs significantly from New Jersey, we lag behind our neighbors in other high-value states such as New York and Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, places like that.”
New Jersey’s minimum wage will increase to $8.85 an hour on Jan. 1 under a formula in the state constitution that requires it to be adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.
That formula will remain in place but be trumped by larger increases required by state law through 2024. It would go to $9.50 an hour on July 1, 2019, followed by increases taking effect each year on Jan. 1 – to $11 in 2020, $11.55 in 2021, $12.70 in 2022, $13.85 in 2023 and $15 in 2024. From there, annual inflation adjustments would go back into effect.
There would be exceptions for workers at small businesses with less than 10 employees, workers under age 18, farm laborers and seasonal workers. Their minimum wages:
- $10.10 per hour in 2020
- $10.35 in 2022
- $10.70 in 2023
- $11.10 in 2024
- $11.70 in 2025
- $12.45 in 2026
- $13.20 in 2027
- $14.10 in 2028
- $15.00 in 2029
For tipped workers:
- $6.72 per hour until July 1, 2019
- $7.37 for the second half of 2019
- $7.87 per hour in 2020
- $7.42 in 2021
- $7.57 in 2022
- $8.72 in 2023
- $9.87 starting in 2024
“It’s time for us to reach out and try to help the people of New Jersey, to bring about a fair wage,” Coughlin said. “And I think that what this bill does is to do that in a way that balances some of the unique industries of the state, and for the overwhelming majority of people who are lower-wage workers, brings them up to a more livable wage so that they can enjoy the benefits of their labor.”
The bill is “an utter disappointment” and “unconscionable,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, who said the Legislature approved a fairer increase in the minimum wage under Gov. Chris Christie, when they knew it would be vetoed.
“The proposal falls short from what New Jersey low-wage workers need and have been clamoring for,” Mejia said.
Mejia said she understands the rationale behind phasing in the increase but added: “The idea that these groups, that these large groups, would be left with over a decade before they’re able to make a more family-sustaining wage is really disheartening.”
Coughlin said the bill is “an important starting point” to begin a conversation.
“But recognize that in doing this, we have to strike a balance between achieving the goals that we’ve set out – the governor, the Senate president and I all stand shoulder to shoulder in trying to achieve a $15 an hour minimum wage. This bill accomplishes that,” he said. “It recognizes the important role that things like small businesses play in the state’s economy. And I think it strikes a balance between achieving both of those ends.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, who has called for a $15 minimum wage to be approved by the Legislature this year, and his office did not comment on the proposal Thursday.
Coughlin said late Thursday afternoon he did not hear back from Murphy after providing him a copy of the bill in the morning.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, praised the bill as “smart and progressive.”
“We will work with legislators, advocates and others to finalize a plan that will be approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law,” he said. “We want to get input from others, but we can now do that with a good proposal that achieves our shared goal of getting to $15 in a responsible way.”
Make the Road New Jersey held a rally to oppose the bill Thursday night in front of a McDonald’s restaurant in Elizabeth. New Jersey Policy Perspective director of government and public affairs Brandon McKoy called Coughlin’s bill “an affront to hundreds of thousands of workers.”
“It’s near impossible to survive in New Jersey on a minimum wage salary, and no worker is exempt from that chilling reality,” McKoy said. “This bill completely dismisses the seriousness of poverty and has the fingerprints of New Jersey’s business lobby all over it."
Business groups said they would continue to work for amendments to the bill, such as requiring an economic analysis of scheduled increases so they can be frozen during a major recession or after a natural disaster.