Minimum wage deal a compromise among Trenton leaders

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Even though Senate President Steve Sweeney said the minimum wage deal could have gotten done months ago, he said Friday he’s thrilled with the brokered deal. He says he predicted that they would come to a compromise at the start of Thursday’s negotiations and praised Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Gov. Phil Murphy for coming to the table.

The proposal increases the minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increases to $11 by 2020, with a $1 a year increase until 2024. Seasonal workers and employees at small businesses with five workers or less will have a little longer track, reaching $15 by 2026.

“When you do minimum wage bill as large as we’re going to go, you got to make sure you’re not going to do it in a way where you lose too many jobs, because we’re going to lose jobs. There’s no question we’re going to lose jobs. So it’s done in, I think, a responsible fashion. One of the big hold ups was agriculture. Obviously I have a very large agriculture district and this will make agriculture the highest agriculture wage in the entire Northeast,” said Sweeney.

That was a sticking point between Sweeney and Murphy. Ultimately farmworkers will hit $12.50 an hour in 2024 and state officials will get to decide if an increase will continue to $15 an hour by 2027.

“Right now we basically have a quarter of the workers in the state making poverty wages. How can you have a strong economy when one out of four workers can’t afford their basic needs? You have the ALICE Report from United Way showing that four out of 10 households are basically working poor. This piece of legislation is really going to help improve that situation, and it’s going to improve our economy. It’s going to really ripple across main streets in New Jersey,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective Director of Government and Public Affairs Brandon McKoy.

So much of the tug in this war has come from the business community, but even lawmakers had negative reactions.

Republican Sen. Anthony Bucco said in a statement, “The simple fact is that many low-skill jobs won’t be worth $15 an hour to an employer when they have access to reliable technology that can perform the same function at a competitive cost.”

Democrat Sen. Vin Gopal called it a disastrous deal that will, ” … ultimately hurt our local economy and will only empower bigger corporations.”

“Some of this is unfair to jump right to that conclusion when we’re not going to $15 overnight. They’re talking about minimum wage going up nationally now. This is what they did the last two times we raised minimum wage, they said we we’re losing jobs where we gained jobs. And I mean, we can document it where they said we we’re going to lose 34,000 jobs and we gained 60,000,” Sweeney said.

The big question on everyone’s mind is what this indicates moving forward. It’s no secret Sweeney and Murphy have had a bitter relationship at times. Sweeney says legalizing marijuana could happen tomorrow if the principals come to an agreement about a commission to regulate it. And by all indications, it still seems the lawmakers are the ones charting this course.

Murphy is one step closer to fulfilling this campaign promise. Legalizing marijuana, to use a Murphy metaphor, will likely be a whole other ballgame. Sweeney anticipates the Legislature will vote on this minimum wage bill by Jan. 31.