Minimum wage bill passes committee after pleas from workers and employers

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

At Thursday’s Assembly Labor Committee hearing there were emotional pleas from workers begging lawmakers to vote in favor of the $15 minimum wage proposal.

“$15 is the difference. It gives me and other workers like me a chance to not just breathe in New Jersey, but to be able to afford to live. Thank you,” said worker Brian Kulas.

“I believe no New Jerseyan working full-time should be living in poverty. And I think today, if you pass this bill out of committee, we’ll take the next step in making sure that doesn’t occur,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said.

The proposal, brokered by Coughlin, raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years beginning in July. For seasonal businesses or those with fewer than six employees the schedule is slower, ramping up to $15 over seven years.

But the state’s business community is reeling. Siblings Allison and Patrick O’Neill run their family’s decades-old seasonal bakery at the shore. They say their operating costs would go up 69 percent over five years with this bill.

“If every single other expense remains the same over the next five years and only this increase in payroll is the only increase, to sell a doughnut in five years it will be $21 for a dozen doughnuts,” said Allison.

O’Neill says that’s double the current cost, negating arguments that consumers will have more buying power with the higher wage.

“We would absolutely have to cut jobs. We would have to cut hours available. There would even be the option of possibly closing the doors of one of the businesses. It just isn’t sustainable,” she said.

Assemblyman Bob Auth asked if O’Neill would consider five or less employees a small business?

“Five employees is a tiny business, not a small business,” she said.

Several lawmakers asked to see that carve-out amended. Representatives for county and local government said they’re studying the bill’s financial impact, but so far options look grim.

“We’re either going to have to increase the cost of certain services provided by counties and municipalities. We either have to go and reduce staff, reduce services or increase property taxes,” said New Jersey Association of Counties Executive Director John Donnadio.

The bill passed out of committee along party lines. It goes for the next vote on Jan. 28 in the Senate Budget and Appropriations where it’ll likely get a green light, though not without another lengthy public airing.