$15 minimum wage bill cruises through Legislature

By Anjalee Khemlani
Trenton | Jan 31, 2019 at 4:23 pm

The state Senate and Assembly easily passed the $15 per hour phased-in minimum wage bill Thursday in Trenton, paving the way for the bill to become law this year.

The minimum wage, which was raised to $8.85 this year, would increase to $15 by 2024 for most workers, with carve-outs for farm workers, tipped workers, seasonal employees, small employers and training wages if the bill becomes law.

Farm workers would reach $12.50 by 2024, after which the Departments of Labor and Agriculture would determine if it should be further raised, and by what increment. Small employers and seasonal workers would reach $15 by 2026. Tipped workers would increase from $2.13 plus tips to $5.13 plus tips by 2022.

The bill passed with 52 in favor and 25 opposed in the Assembly.

Republicans tried to get a substitute bill that would raise the wage to $13 per hour and include an “off-ramp” to give businesses relief in the event of another recession.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said the bill was crafted with the consideration of the business community’s concerns.

“The truth of the matter is that history has shown us that raising the minimum wage is actually good for the business community, it’s good for the state of New Jersey and, most importantly, its good for the people who benefit from it,” Coughlin said.

The bill passed with 23 votes in favor and 16 opposed in the Senate.

Some raised concerns about unintended consequences, chief among them being having workers pay more in taxes as a result of their raises and losing out on benefits and government subsidies.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) also brought up the concern about loss of child care, adding that there are staff looking to ensure the bill does not result in families losing subsidies.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said he respected those opposing the bill, but he has committed to looking at what the unintended consequences are and bringing the legislation back in order to tweak it as needed.

“The time of arguing over a $15 minimum wage is over,” he said. “The wage gap is so large now. It’s time to give people on the lower end to do a little better. I did hear from the business community, that we are going to lose thousands of jobs, only to realize gains in employment. Modernization and computerization is happening … will this speed it up? Possibly. But if corporations can find ways to do things cheaper, they will do them whether it’s a $15 or $20 minimum wage.”

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association has consistently said the business community is concerned with a range of issues, including being able to provide health benefits and relocating altogether.

“The responses we have received from the business community have been passionate and it’s critical that legislators recognize their concerns,” CEO and President Michele Siekerka previously said.

“The theme over many of these stories was concern about compression for those already making $15 an hour, the impact on Medicaid and increased costs to state government. Companies are challenged in their inability to raise costs at the retail level and, therefore, will need to cut costs through cutting hours and benefits. There is also the concern about the overall impact a $15 minimum wage will have on their ability to provide other benefits like healthcare coverage. Many of our members are also calling for an offset for workforce training since many are challenged to hire a trained workforce as it is. And, yes, some of them say they will either close or relocate. We take them at their word, and our legislators should, too.”

Raising the minimum wage to $15 was a campaign promise for Gov. Phil Murphy, and has been one of the items the state’s leaders have aligned on.

The bill is likely to be signed by Murphy in as little as a week after its easy passage in both houses.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem