Guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage in New Jersey is the right thing for employers to do. The governor, Senate president and Assembly speaker must find a happy middle ground in their debate to ensure a living wage for those who most need it in New Jersey.
I don’t make this claim as a labor advocate, but as a business owner in a field rife with underpaid workers. I am CEO of Lawns by Yorkshire, one of the state’s larger landscaping and snow removal firms, and I believe all of LBY’s employees and, indeed all those in New Jersey, deserve a fair day’s wage — and $15 an hour is right by today’s standards.
Recently, I was in a meeting where several of my fellow business owners were expressing concern about this soon-to-be mandate. I made the point that we need to be honest about entry-level wages, which in my business are $13 to $14 already, so it’s not much of a stretch to bump it to $15. In supermarkets and warehousing, I see ads offering a starting wage of $15. The $15 is happening because of market forces, and fighting it doesn’t seem right.
No doubt there’s a fear among business owners of wages moving up as someone making $15 now might be moved to $17 and so on. But, we need to face the reality that is New Jersey today. We are in a very tight labor market and I see “Help Wanted” signs in most establishments I walk into. If businesses care at all about the goods and services they provide to their customers, they need a workforce able to deliver on their commitments.
Even in a business like mine, where the labor force is the single biggest expense.
So, in a market where we are competing for high value labor, it’s up to businesses to figure this out. It’s not going to break anyone’s business, especially those focused on a quality product or service. I am doing it right now in my business. More than 90 percent of the LBY staff makes at least $15 an hour. It will soon be 100 percent, with or without a mandate from state.
Why? It’s not just about fairness for those who work hard at too low a wage to be able to afford any kind of a reasonable life for their families. It’s about keeping turnover low, so you can deliver for your clients. That should be motivation enough. Happy employees make for a better work product and more value to our customers. That’s what makes businesses successful, not squeezing the lowest-paid employees in a tight labor market.
Steven Jomides is CEO of Westwood-based Lawns by Yorkshire.