By. John C. Ensslin
Debate over a proposed hike to New Jersey’s minimum wage prompted something rarely seen on the Bergen County Freeholder Board of late: a party line vote.
By a 4-3 vote Wednesday, the board approved a resolution urging residents to vote yes on non-binding referendum on Nov. 5 that calls for raising the minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour. Democratic freeholders David Ganz, Joan Voss, Steve Tanelli and Tracy Zur voted yes.
“Eight dollars and twenty five cents – you can barely make it in this economy on that,” Voss said.
The three Republican freeholders – John Felice, John Mitchell and Maura DeNicola – all said they also favor raising the minimum wage. But all three said they had a problem with framing the raise through a constitution amendment that would peg future increases to the state’s minimum wage to a cost of living index.
“I’m in favor of raising the minimum wage to $8.25,” Mitchell said. “But doing it by constitutional amendment is not the way to do it.”
“It’s been very difficult for me,” he added, “because I do know that people need this money.”
Party line votes have been rare this year among the freeholders as Mitchell and Felice have sided with the Democratic majority on several major issues, such as merging the County Police into the Sheriff’s Office and overriding vetos by County Executive Kathleen Donovan, a Republican.
Members of several labor groups urged the board to support passage of Ballot Question No. 2. They noted that New Jersey has not raised the state’s minimum wage since 2005.
Mauro Camporeale of the Bergen County Central Trades and Labor Council said that a person making the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour would have to work about 138 hours a week to pay $1,000-a-month rent on two-bedroom apartment.
“It’s virtually impossible to get by in New Jersey based on what the minimum wage is today,” he said.
Ganz said it is his understanding that there are about 20 county employees currently being paid the minimum hourly wage of $7.25. He suggested “leading by example” by talking to the administration about raising the hourly rate for those workers.
The League of Women Voters of Northern Valley has scheduled a forum on the minimum wage ballot question on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Closter Public Library at 280 High Street.