Minimum-wage hike advances in N.J. Senate

Posted: March 09, 2012

TRENTON - A plan to hike New Jersey's minimum wage by $1.25 to $8.50 an hour is a step closer to approval after the Senate Labor Committee passed it, 3-1, Thursday.

The bill, which would peg the wage rate to inflation, passed an Assembly committee last month.

Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R., Burlington) said she opposed the bill this is not the right time to hit businesses with a payroll increase. Employers might lay off the very people the bill aims to assist, she said.

"We need to not only make sure that we create more jobs in New Jersey but that we keep all the jobs that we already have," she said during the committee hearing. "It isn't just the young people working at these jobs. It's families."

Supporters of the measure argue that putting more money in the hands of working families will spur the economy as they buy items they need.

Ines Garcia, 35, a single mother of four in New Brunswick who testified at the hearing, said a raise would help, but the money would go quickly.

"To pay for taxes, to pay for washing our clothes in the laundry, we're still going to be left with very little," Garcia, who works full time at an industrial laundry facility, said in Spanish after the hearing.

Assembly Speaker and bill sponsor Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) is working with Democratic leaders in neighboring states to counter a popular argument made by business leaders: that raising the minimum wage will send businesses running for cheaper territory.

New York may raise its wage to $8.50 and Connecticut may bump its rate, currently at $8.25, to $9.75 during the next two years.

"Strengthening the buying power of low-wage workers is especially critical given that the majority of jobs that have been created in the wake of the recession are concentrated in low- and mid-wage occupations," Oliver, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan wrote in a commentary that ran in several newspapers this week. "A family that was once supported by a modest construction job is now left with a low-wage service-sector job that cannot cover the bills."

Leaders in both Democratically controlled chambers in Trenton strongly support the bill. Gov. Christie, a Republican, has said he would consider signing it.

The Senate bill was referred to the Budget and Appropriations Committee, but the Assembly could vote on its version as early as next Thursday. A schedule for that day's voting session was not available Thursday afternoon.

If signed into law, the new wage would take effect July 1.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the minimum wage law in June 1938, setting the rate at 25 cents an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It had taken Roosevelt years to gain congressional approval. Businesses, particularly in the South, fought Roosevelt's initial plan for a 40-cent wage floor, saying they would have to fire everyone and close up, according to information from the department.

The business arguments were similar, but less dramatic, in the New Jersey Senate hearing Thursday.

The economy's recovery remains fragile, business and industry leaders said, and money for the higher wage has to come from somewhere. Businesses may pass costs on to consumers, cut staff hours, or lay off workers.

"Our members grapple with rising costs, excessive regulations, and when we ask them how do they handle these challenges, they say they need to meet their bottom line," said Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. "They respond by raising prices, cutting hours. ... These are the reality checks of business survival."

Edward McGlynn, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Amusement Association, said the bill would require four of the amusement parks he represents to come up with more than $1 million to meet their payroll this summer.

But McGlynn, acknowledging the bill's strong support from legislative leaders, also asked whether the wage increase could be phased in.

"We believe that we could do something about staggering it," he said. "We can't possibly increase our costs ... by 17 percent and automatically raise that 17 percent."


Contact Joelle Farrell at jfarrell@phillynews.com or 856-779-3237, or follow on Twitter @joellefarrell.

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