It was billed as a news conference, but it felt more like a rally. Gov. Phil Murphy summoned the usual suspects from the progressive end of the spectrum.
Ron Rivers, the head of a beer and wine making supply company that already pays a $15 minimum wage, spoke first, then the governor. He said there is one more voting session for the Legislature this year on Dec. 17 and they should pass a $15 minimum wage bill then.
“I think, with all due respect, if we really want to give our working families a boost and make forward-thinking employers like Ron and his colleagues the example and not the exception, then let’s hope both our holiday wish and the Legislature’s Dec. 17 board list include putting New Jersey on a responsible and certain path to a $15 an hour minimum wage,” Murphy said.
The current minimum wage is $8.60 cents an hour. It rises to $8.85 Jan. 1.
$8.60 is $1,490 a month before taxes, said an assemblywoman with firsthand knowledge of the predicament.
“It wasn’t just a few years ago that I was working for around $9 an hour as a baker and taking four buses to work and still not being able to make ends meet,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake.
The poor are not lazy, said a pastor.
“We know the majority of these people are working two and three jobs, and while a $15 an hour minimum wage will not solve every problem, ask somebody who’s only making $8 and change and they’ll tell you it will certainly solve a lot of problems,” said Rev. Charles Boyer, a pastor at Bethel AME Woodbury.
The legislative leaders are on board. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin published an Op-Ed this weekend saying he’ll work with Murphy to get a bill done and said Monday that the Assembly is in the final stages of crafting legislation.
Senate President Steve Sweeney tweaked Murphy, saying, “This is no time for staged rallies and dueling news conferences,” but said he’s on board with the issue.
When Murphy opened it up to questions, reporters asked whether he favors the new legislative redistricting plan put forward last week by Democratic leaders.
“Yeah, I’m not a buyer of it,” Murphy said.
The Senate president and Assembly speaker want different representation on the commission that will draw a new map, and Murphy said for the first time he’s against it.
“I’m a proud Democrat, let me say that number one, but I also want to be a believer in democracy and opening up democracy and transparency and good processes in government and getting to the right solutions. And I don’t think this meets those tests,” Murphy said.
He said he didn’t know if it was aimed at diluting his power but that it just popped up last week, and what’s the rush.
“In the good government realm, this popped up the day before Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, everybody,” Murphy said.
His position got reinforcement from a social justice advocate.
“It fundamentally elevates partisanship above keeping communities of color, in particular, whole, so part of what the spirit of the legislation should be is to empower communities over parties, and the reverse is true about this legislation, which is part of the reason why we oppose it,” said Institute for Social Justice President and CEO Ryan Haygood.
Murphy was asked why he focused on the minimum wage on a day when marijuana tops the agenda down the street. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, he said, and besides, raising the minimum wage has been one of his top priorities all year.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multiplatform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by the JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.