Elected officials and faith leaders joined commercial workers this week as they began bargaining with cleaning contractors for fair contracts.
The pledge of support from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka comes at a critical time for these hard working men and women who clean more than 500 office buildings across New Jersey.
A number of elected officials, clergy, and workers shared their stories about why now more than ever it’s time to fight for good jobs that support families, communities and the economy during a press conference voicing support for 7,000 NJ janitors held Tuesday, October 13 at noon outside the Penn Station Hilton Hotel, on Raymond Blvd., in Newark.
These dedicated janitors –members of 32BJ SEIU—are among 70,000 office cleaners up and down the East Coast bargaining for a contract this year.
The administration of Republican Governor Chris Christie — who is waging an anemic campaign for president — recently announced that there would be no increase in the minimum wage in the Garden State despite the enactment of a voter-approved measure that ties pay hikes for the poorest workers to the inflation rate.
A constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2013 raised New Jersey’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 in 2014, and then every year after based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). That meant a 13 cent raise in 2015.
Due to President Barack Obama’s efforts at managing the economy, there was no inflation last year but minimum wage supporters say the amount earned by workers should go up.
“When the law was passed in 2013 to hike the state’s minimum wage, additional automatic increases were tied to the inflation rate,” explained Joan Quigley, a former state assemblywoman from Jersey City who is the president of the North Hudson Community Action Corp.. “Last year the minimum wage automatically increased from $8.25 an hour all the way up to $8.38.”
“Few officials would comment on the record about the lack of an increase for 2016, but privately many moaned that this was an issue they’d hoped was gone forever,” said Quigley. “Of course, it never really disappeared from the public consciousness because members of Congress have been talking about raising the minimum wage for years and unions, especially in New York City, recently have been staging protests against low wages.”
Jon Whiten, director of New Jersey Policy Perspective, released a statement saying that the current rate is “inadequate.”
“The fact that New Jersey’s minimum wage is staying at $8.38 an hour is a wake-up call to revive the conversation about higher pay for working men and women in our state,” Whiten said. “$8.38 an hour is less than two-thirds of what a full-time worker needs just to survive in this high-cost state. It’s less than half of what it takes for a stable working class life that includes things most of us take for granted, like occasional meals out or weekend trips away, and a little savings.”
“Let’s be clear: Poorly paid people can’t get by on New Jersey’s minimum wage,” Whiten said. “Our leaders should stop acting as if the 2013 increase was enough. The fact that so many New Jerseyans must keep scraping by on less than $20,000 a year underscores the utter inadequacy of the state minimum wage.”
“This time will be the last time I will vote to raise the minimum wage because I won’t have to,” said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, (D-20), when the automatic increase language was incorporated into the bill. “As a country we fall behind, we fall behind because we forget about these folks. I proudly support this legislation.”
Apparently, the Republicans have found a way around Lesniak’s expectations by denying a raise to full time workers who are trying to get by in the state on less than $17,500 a year.
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