Cory Booker, Barbara Buono push for minimum wage hike at union dinner

NORTH BRUNSWICK — U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono — both Democrats — tonight both trumpeted the need for New Jerseyans to pass a ballot question that would raise the state's minimum wage at a time when the middle class is shrinking.

"It's hard to imagine that in 2013, people working have to live on $7.25 an hour," Buono told union leaders at a dinner supporting the measure at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 456 headquarters in North Brunswick. "That's not a living wage. That's a starving wage."

New Jersey voters will decide at the polls Nov. 5 whether to approve a constitutional amendment that would hike the state's from $7.25 to $8.25 and install automatic yearly increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

Democrats in the state Legislature put the question to voters after Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed their effort to pass an increase through legislation, saying the state's economy is too weak to handle it.

But Buono — who is waging an uphill battle against Christie in this year's gubernatorial race — slammed the governor for investing "in millionaires instead of the middle class."

View full sizeState Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, speaks tonight at a dinner supporting raising the minimum wage at the IBEW Local 456 headquarters in North Brunswick. 

Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County, noted how her father was an Italian immigrant and high school dropout who managed to provide for their family because of his job as a union butcher.

"He had the dignity to put food on our table and a roof over our head because he had a living wage," she said.

Booker also told the audience that his father, who grew up in poverty with a single mother, was able to find success because of the ability to work for living wages. But days like that, he said, are disappearing.

"Someone who was born poor had a real shot at breaking out of poverty and making it to the middle class," said Booker, the Newark mayor who is running in the Oct. 16 special election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated after Frank Lautenberg's death. "The problem today is: social mobility in our country is going down. More and more of our families are finding themselves trapped in dead-end jobs."

Booker argued that in the recent recession that gripped the U.S., middle-wage jobs were replaced with minimum-wage jobs.

A recent survey by Legal Services of New Jersey found a record 24.7 percent of New Jersey's population — 2.1 million residents — was considered poor in 2011.

"People all over the state, what they are seeing is: Everything is going up," Booker said. "Rent is going up, gas is going up. Everything is going up but their wages."

Tonight's event came hours after business leaders held a news conference in Seaside Heights saying a minimum wage hike would hurt their businesses at a time when New Jersey is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and a fire that recently destroyed a large part of the Seaside boardwalk.

Two polls released last month showed that a majority of New Jersey voters support raising the minimum wage.

Original article

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