To tell the truth, it’s time to say whether you truly are for $15 minimum wage

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Dec 7, 2018 at 6:45 am
Editor’s Desk

In October, Jeff Bezos and Amazon announced the company was going to pay every employee in New Jersey — full-time, part-time, seasonal — at least $15 an hour. Effective Nov. 1.

In November, George Norcross and Cooper University Health Care announced the system will begin paying all its employees at least $15 an hour. Effective Jan. 1.

On Thursday, Barry Ostrowsky and RWJBarnabas Health announced it will pay all of its employees at least $15 an hour. Effective 2019.

Bezos, Norcross and Ostrowsky acted decisively and showed why they are three of the most powerful and influential people in the state (in Bezos’ case, the world). The $15-an-hour wage will impact the bottom line of each of the companies they run, but they decided it was the right thing to do.

Compare that with the state Legislature.

On Thursday morning, New Jersey’s legislators showed how they feel about the issue by releasing a proposal to raise the minimum wage.

It’s coming … in 2024.

And not for everyone.

If you work on a farm — which just about everyone would consider back-breaking work — you don’t get $15 an hour until 2029.

That’s more than a decade away. Or, put it this way: It’s when the current 6th grade class will be graduating from college.

We appreciate that raising payroll costs will impact some sectors more than others, that it will be doubly tough on small business, and all businesses need time to prepare. But it’s almost impossible to justify needing 11 years to implement something.

When announcing the bill, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) proudly boasted how it showed the body’s support for the working class and working poor.

“This bill addresses the issue of helping New Jersey’s working poor be better able to afford living in the state, while taking into consideration the concerns of the state’s valued small business community,” he said in a statement. “Raising the minimum wage will not only lift up the current generation of low-wage workers, but ensure fairness for future generations and tackle issues of hunger and inequality.”

Hogwash, as we used to say in the South.

We don’t mean to pick on Coughlin — he is just the front man on the bill — but he certainly didn’t create it in a vacuum. This bill is the work of the Democratic-controlled Legislature. They own it.

This bill gives the Legislature the ability to pretend as if it is concerned about this issue, but it delays any meaningful action.

You’re either for the $15 minimum wage — or you’re not.

We know where Bezos, Norcross and Ostrowsky stand.

Where does the Legislature? And the governor?

It’s time for the state to decide where it really stands on the issue.

If you do not want to raise the minimum wage because lobbyists have persuaded you not to, then say it. (Pause … wait for laughter.)

If you do not want to raise the minimum wage because you feel it would negatively impact a large part of the New Jersey economy, then say it. (And then explain why you have not taken any substantial action on what is really killing the New Jersey economy — the outrageous benefits and pension plans that go to state workers.)

If you want to do a carve out, we would suggest just one: making employees under the age of 21 exempt — because we feel the lessons learned from a first job are far more valuable than the wage.

Farm workers? Really?

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver quickly raised concerns about that, telling ROI-NJ’s Anjalee Khemlani she couldn’t understand how those doing that type of work would be exempted.

We applaud her for her honesty.

This is not an easy topic.

That’s why Bezos, Norcross and Ostrowsky addressed the issue head-on.

Ostrowsky talked about the unintended consequences — and how RWJBarnabas Health planned to deal with them.

“As you know, there are unintended consequences, unfortunately, when you raise wages,” he said. “Some people who are benefitting from their membership in public assistance programs, they no longer qualify to be in those programs. So, counterintuitively and ironically, you may pay more, but it turns out, in terms of usable funds and the ability to support lifestyles, some employees may be worse off because of that.”

Ostrowsky said he intends to figure out how to support those employees and protect them from the negative impact, based on similar programs elsewhere in the country.

Bezos and Norcross said it’s simply the right thing to do.

And it’s not often that we agree with New Jersey Policy Perspective.

But Brandon McKoy, the group’s director of government and public affairs, eviscerated the proposed bill with his response.

“This bill is an affront to the hundreds of thousands of workers who will be left behind from earning the full minimum wage and a chance to better support themselves and their families,” he said. “Creating new exemptions in the minimum wage runs counter to the notion of equal pay for equal work, and will further exacerbate income inequality by creating a sub-minimum wage underclass.”

He’s correct.

You are either in or you’re out.

Years ago, there was a dreadfully awful television show called “To Tell The Truth.” ((The show premiered in 1956, when the minimum wage was $1.)

Two contestants would try to determine which of the people sitting on stage were actually being honest by asking them questions and gauging their answers.

In the big conclusion, the person telling the truth would reveal themselves by standing up.

I’m picturing Bezos, Norcross, Ostrowsky and Coughlin up on stage.

When it comes time for the big reveal, the scene is easy to visualize.

The host would say: Do you honestly support a $15 minimum wage?

Bezos, Norcross and Ostrowsky all would stand.