Manufacturers warn $15 wage would devastate industry

One thing has been made clear by manufacturers to members of the New Jersey Manufacturing Legislative Caucus: If the minimum wage is raised to $15 an hour, much-needed apprenticeship training — and full-time jobs — will cease to exist in the state.

“This is an industry that builds people,” John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, said. “(Employees) may start at $10 an hour, but the hope is that they will grow into $30 an- hour employees.

“If we start dictating wages, we will drive companies out.”

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program invited more than two dozen manufacturers to its headquarters in Cedar Knolls on Wednesday to participate in a three-hour discussion with the Manufacturing Legislative Caucus, which is led by state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) and Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sparta).

Many of the manufacturers were unclear as to how to begin projecting what they will need to pay their employees next year, due to the uncertainty of when and how mandated wage increases will happen.

Here’s what they said:

Dieter Weissenrieder, CEO and president of Weiss-Aug Co. in East Hanover: “We have five plants, two in New Jersey, one in East Hanover and one in Fairfield. We also have a plant in Mexico. Our standard (labor) rate in Mexico is $3.50. It is $18.50 (here). If you create a minimum wage of $15, I will have to move jobs to Mexico.”

Gail Friedberg, vice president at Zago Manufacturing Co. in Newark: “As the cost of each employee goes up, not just wages, but also workers’ compensation, health insurance, pension, paid time off and more, we are trying to figure out ways to do more with less. This all needs to be taken into consideration.”

Casey Muench Bickhardt, president of GEMCO in Middlesex: “I pay everyone higher than $15 now. The problem is that I pay for the skill in which I am getting. The cost equals the benefit. We begin internships at $10, but that will go away (in a time when) young people need to be able to see and want to be part of that vision.”

State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Denville), CEO and president of Baker Titan Adhesives in Paterson: “We know what we can afford to pay to be competitive in this field. I start unskilled labor at $12 an hour. If that goes up to $15, it raises the ceiling, and the (employee) making $15 now will say, ‘I’ve been here a year — why is he getting $15? Now, I want $20.’ This is the danger in it, and why I do not feel that legislators should be the bargaining agent for employees.”

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Red Bank), CEO of FSD Enterprises in Red Bank: “You don’t want us to start building out a certain increase within five years to $15 an hour. You may have your certainty, but, then, if there is a recession, it is hard to undo. We should take one year at a time. Let’s commit to voting every year on an increase and continue to hear from you — that should be the message we send back to our legislative leadership based on what we’ve heard from people on the ground.”