Cheers as Murphy signs $15 wage bill — but not from small business owners

By Anjalee Khemlani
Elizabeth | Feb 4, 2019 at 2:15 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a phased-in $15 minimum wage into law in front of an enthusiastic bilingual crowd Monday in Elizabeth.

For Murphy, the signing represents the fulfillment of a major campaign promise at the start of his second year in office.

The state Senate and Assembly easily passed the bill Thursday in Trenton.

The minimum wage, which was raised to $8.85 this year, would increase to $15 by 2024 for most workers, with carveouts 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.

In his speech Monday, Murphy said the increase in the minimum wage, which will begin this July, helps families participate at a greater pace in economic growth in the state.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver also spoke at the signing and shared her experience earning a minimum wage in the 1960s and having to pay bills, as well as talking about the burden on families.

“But, now, we are on a trajectory to help people pay their bills,” she said. “Hopefully, with the elevation of the minimum wage, families can begin to offer their children a better quality of life.”

The business community has repeatedly fought against the increase, saying it puts undue pressure on small businesses and could force even more to reduce benefits for employees to handle the increased cost.

Michele Siekerka, the head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association — a group that represents hundreds of small business owners — said the new law will quickly have a negative impact.

“After calling for a responsible, slow and predictive pathway to increasing the minimum wage, we are disappointed that our policymakers have put into place a plan that will result in a 35 percent cost increase to New Jersey’s small businesses, when including the increased wage and payroll taxes, within just 11 months,” she said in a statement.

“These job creators have told us that this action will increase their labor costs both in the short and long term; impacting the slim profit margins they already face, given their need to contend with the highest taxes and worst business climate in the nation.”

Some Democrats voted against the bill, because it qualifies small businesses as those with fewer than five employees. The federal government defines small business as those with fewer than 50.

There were other compromise bills crafted by Republicans and Democrats, but neither were considered during the legislative process.

One such legislator was Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean), who in a Super Bowl night email explained why he voted against the bill.

“It’s no secret that the American Dream is slipping out of reach for too many New Jerseyans,” he said. “While corporate giants will absorb the wage increase or pour money into automation.

“Main Street businesses will have no choice but to close their doors. As an Indian-American small business owner myself, I know the impact that this bill could have on immigrant and minority-owned businesses, in particular.”

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