Murphy negotiating $15 minimum wage bill with Legislature

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Earth Friendly Products in Parsippany makes environmentally sound cleaning products like ECOS laundry detergent. Gov. Phil Murphy visited Tuesday because the company pays its workers a $17 minimum wage.

Murphy is negotiating a minimum wage bill with the Legislature. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has a bill that would phase in a $15 minimum wage by 2024. It would also exclude farmworkers, seasonal workers, teenagers under 18 and businesses under 10 employees. Those categories would be on a slower path to $15 in 2029.

Murphy said Friday that latter position sticks in his throat. Tuesday, he clarified where he stands on the bill, and reminded people he had put a bill in last May.

“There are very few people who aren’t in that main runway in what we sent over, and our hope is at the end of the day, again, we’re going to be driven by getting there as fast but as responsibly as possible, so it’s a multiyear process, but soon. And secondly, having as many people on board on that main thrust as possible, but a willingness to consider something at the edges. That was the nature of the discussion that we had with the speaker and our teams are continuing to work,” Murphy said.

Earth Friendly Products is a family business with 350 employees and four locations. Its CEO, the daughter of its founder, said a 2014 decision to go to a $17 minimum wage had paid dividends.

“We saw increased productivity when we raised our wage. We saw people really coming to work more often. We saw a reduction in time off,” president and CEO Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks said.

Murphy also took the occasion to confirm that his chief of staff Pete Cammarano is resigning effective after the State of the State address in January. He said Cammarano had always planned to serve a year or so and then bow out.

“Most importantly to Tammy, and me, and our entire staff, he’s been an extraordinary, close friend and that will remain the case in the years ahead,” Murphy said. “We’re begging our search right now for a successor to Pete, but let me very clear, there will be no replacing Pete Cammarano. You may have noticed, by the way, that President Trump is also looking for a chief of staff, so we’re comparing our lists of candidates to make sure there’s no overlap.”

On the minimum wage, Murphy wants movement.

“I think there are two, broadly speaking, two issues that are concerning — one is that it takes too long, and the cohort is too large. I think it’s over three times as large as the cohort that we were willing to consider, and it’s far too long. Those are the two concerns we have,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he’d meet with Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney on Thursday to work on the minimum wage bill. Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Vin Gopal offered a compromise — a $12 minimum wage by 2021, followed by a study of its impact on small business.