Assembly Speaker Prieto, Assemblyman Wisniewski, Senator Lesniak Introduce $15 Minimum Wage Bill

February 04, 2016

Workers & Advocates Praise Sponsors, Say Raise Would Give Big Boost to Working Families & Economy

(TRENTON) -- Legislators joined NJ Working Families and its partners in New Jersey's Fight for $15 to unveil a groundbreaking bill that would raise New Jersey's minimum wage to $15 from its current level of $8.38. Workers and advocates praised the bill as a major step forward in the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the state's minimum wage to a family-sustaining wage.

"As we continue to review other proposals as part of our new anti-poverty initiative, this will be an integral component in our efforts to stop the decline in the middle class and lift working families out of poverty," said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a sponsor of the bill. "The constitutional minimum wage that we established a few years ago set a floor, not a ceiling. While that was the best and most feasible thing we could do at the time, we now need to strive for better to reverse the poverty trend in this state."

New Jersey's current minimum wage is only a little over a dollar above the federal floor for wages in one of the highest cost states in the country. The take home pay for a full time minimum wage worker is less than $18,000 a year.

"When businesses fail to pay a living wage, government is forced to fill the gap," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, sponsor of the bill. "Essentially, taxpayers are subsidizing these low-paying jobs and, in the process, suppressing wages for everyone else in the workforce. It's not fair for workers or for the taxpayers who end up paying the bill. The American economy works best with a healthy middle class that has money in their pocket to spend."

According to a report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey, a single New Jerseyan with no children would need to earn $13.78 just to make basic needs like food and shelter, and $19.73 to achieve basic economic stability.

"No hardworking New Jerseyan should have to live in poverty," said Senator Raymond Lesniak, the primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. "But too many airport workers, childcare providers, home health aides and food service workers can't earn enough to support themselves, much less sustain a family. This legislation would give a much needed raise to 36 percent of New Jersey's workforce, lifting families out of poverty while providing small businesses with a massive influx of new customers."

The proposal would go into effect immediately upon being signed into law, raising wages for over a third of New Jersey workers.

"New Jerseyans can't afford to wait for higher wages. The landlord doesn't wait and the electric company doesn't wait, so neither can we," said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. "Poverty wages force working families to cut back on basic purchases, dragging down our economy and depressing our most vulnerable communities. We call on the legislature to put the bill on Governor Christie's desk and urge him to sign it without delay."

What began as an organizing campaign by fast food workers in New York City has quickly transformed into a nationwide movement for a genuine living wage that has won concessions from multinational corporations like Walmart and McDonalds and prompted Seattle to become the first city in the country to chart a course for a $15 minimum wage. San Francisco quickly followed, and in September 2015 Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would make a major push for a $15 an hour minimum wage in New York State.

"People who work for a living ought to be able to make a living. But that's not the case for airport workers, security officers, health care workers, janitors and many other low wage workers who are struggling to put food on the table," said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and NJ State Director. " A $15 minimum wage would help these hardworking men and women lift themselves and their families out of poverty and put them on a path toward the middle class. And when workers can afford more than the basics it's a win for families and the economy."

The Fight for $15 kicked off in New Jersey following a year of grassroots organizing led by New Jersey Working Families and its partners at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Communication Workers of America, 15NOW and more.

"This is an education issue, because poverty is strongly correlated to educational challenges," said Wendell Steinhaur, President of the New Jersey Education Association. "When children don't have reliable food and shelter, their education suffers. When parents have to work multiple jobs to meet the bills, they have less time to support their children's education. NJEA stands with all working people, and we are proud to stand for this smart policy that will benefit our students, their families and New Jersey's economy."

Essex County Freeholders made their county the first to endorse a $15 an hour minimum wage in October 2015. Hudson County followed suit weeks later, followed shortly by the Jersey City Council and Mayor Fulop.

"People who go to work everyday in New Jersey should be able to afford a decent place to live. They should be able to afford food without having to rely on government safety net programs or private charity. And they should be able to afford clothes for themselves and their family," said Gordon MacInnes, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective. "Most of New Jersey's low-wage workers are adults who are working full time, and one in four are parents. To continue to allow them to be paid so poorly that they live in poverty is a moral and economic failure."

In December Mercer County became the third county in the state to officially endorse the Fight for $15.

"Raising the Minimum Wage to a living wage is one of the most important acts we can undertake to improve our economy," said Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey Director of the Communication Workers of America. "CWA represents thousands of childcare workers who care for our State's children but who don't earn enough to care for their own families. We support this legislation.