The $15 minimum wage law passed the Assembly 52-25 and the Senate 23-16. Democrats propelled the vote, each time to significant applause from a gallery of supporters.
“It gives us a chance to be able to afford New Jersey, afford basic needs such as eggs, fruit, toothpaste, hygiene products — the things that so many people take for granted that we can’t afford. This will finally give us a chance to be able to survive New Jersey,” said minimum wage worker Brian Kulas.
The bill raises New Jersey’s $8.85 an hour minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years beginning in July. For seasonal businesses or those with fewer than six employees, the increase to $15 an hour will take longer, occurring over seven years. Overall, it could impact up to an estimated million workers in New Jersey. That’s why many Republicans and business groups claim the bill will drive mom and pops out of business.
“The fact that this is a national debate — it’s raging in states all over the country — a number of my colleagues on my side of this side of the aisle have now said we could accept some increase in the minimum wage. There’s an argument here, there’s a debate that could be won. We just believe that this proposal goes too far, too fast, and locks us into this multi-year commitment,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon.
“The most critical thing is we need an off ramp. We need something to halt the min wage if and when, and we will be going into a recession, to stop and give the small businesses a break,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
“Now what we do is we start working on other legislation to address what was left off here. In particular, an economic off ramp and an economic analysis,” said Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
Interestingly, Sen. Dawn Addiego, who recently switched parties to join the Democrats’ caucus, voted for the bill, stating Senate President Steve Sweeney would address her concerns.
“I don’t want to see our young people lose their jobs to kiosks. So he has committed to me that he’s going to do a bill with me that will give a tax deduction to businesses that hire youth at the minimum wage,” she said.
Thursday’s votes bring New Jersey closer to joining California, Massachusetts and New York, the only other states with $15 minimum wage laws. Gov. Phil Murphy’s expected to sign the measure Monday after a compromise brokered by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin helped resolve a stalemate between Murphy and Sweeney.
“At the end of the day, we need to do something. I see, when I drive on the highway, more Maseratis, fancy $300,000 cars, than I’ve ever seen in my life. You use to see them once in a while. The tables have turned. The wage gap is so large now. It’s time to give the people on the lower end a chance to do a little bit better,” said Sweeney.
For advocates who’ve worked on this issue for years, Thursday’s votes felt particularly sweet, especially since the Legislature voted twice — in 2013 and 2016 — to pass a $15 minimum wage law, only to have it publicly shot down by Chris Christie.
“I think New Jersyans have been waiting for a really long time, especially since Gov. Christie vetoed it when it was first passed. We’re just excited to have this be a reality,” said New Jersey Working Families Alliance Executive Director Analilia Mejia.
The bill now heads to the governor for his signature, even as Sweeney is talking about possible fixes.