www.laborpress.org - By Marc Bussanich
Maplewood, NJ—Many low-wage workers in the Garden State work full time, but barely get by on minimum wage. A coalition of different organizations under the umbrella group, Working Families United for New Jersey, are campaigning to alert New Jerseyans of a ballot initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage.
New Jersey’s minimum wage, currently at $7.25, has not increased since 2005. Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation in January that would have raised the wage to $8.50 on March 1, 2013. On November 5, New Jersey voters will have a chance on whether to vote yea or nay for an increase.
The minimum wage legislation vetoed by Governor Christie would have tied future annual increases to a local Consumer Price Index every July 1, thereby cushioning the increase from the vagaries of inflation.
In a bid to placate New Jersey’s business community, which is strongly opposed to the increase, Governor Christie introduced his own plan to raise the minimum wage that would raise it from the current $7.25 to $8.50 in increments—a 25-cent increase on March 1, 2013, a 50-cent increase on March 1, 2014 and a final 25-cent increase on March 1, 2015. Unlike the original legislation, the Governor’s plan doesn’t include automatic future increases tied to rising costs.
According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a public policy organization, under the Governor’s plan, a minimum wage of $8.25 per hour in 2015 would be worth only $7.80 in today’s dollars, based upon Congressional Budget Office inflation projections.
The legislation New Jersey voters will be voting on November 5, 2013 would raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $8.25 (rather than $8.50 as first approved by the state’s legislature) on January 1, 2014 (rather than March 1, 2013). But the legislature’s second proposal does tie future annual increases to a local Consumer Price Index every January 1.
According to a recent poll by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jerseyans remain unwavering in their support for a constitutional amendment to raise the state’ minimum wage.
“More than three-quarters of registered voters say they will vote yes on the November ballot question…Only 18 percent oppose the measure. A large majority of Republicans plan to vote for the increase, despite Gov. Chris Christie’s earlier veto of a similar measure.”
According to NJPP, increasing the state’s minimum wage would impact a total of 429,000 working New Jerseyans, or 11 percent of the state’s workforce, and increase the state’s Gross Domestic Product by $178.4 million in 2014 because low-wage workers would immediately spend the extra money on basic necessities.
Charles Hall, president of the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union Local 108 and chairman of Working Families United, said in an interview that low-wage workers, many who work in the retail sector, in New Jersey need a wage increase because they are having difficulty affording even basic necessities such as food and housing.
“The cost of living has gone up, the cost of rent has gone up, the cost of groceries has gone up, but workers’ minimum wage didn’t go up,” said Hall.
While Governor Chris Christie said that the state can’t afford a minimum wage increase because of a fragile economic recovery, Mr. Hall said the state can afford an increase.
“Low-wage workers are really struggling in New Jersey; a wage increase would really help them while also stimulating the economy.”