Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin introduced a bill that would set some New Jersey workers on a path to earn $15 an hour by 2024 but the proposal was condemned by progressives because it will not help many New Jersey minimum wage earners, particularly in industries comprised mostly of people of color and women.
“Assembly Speaker Coughlin’s proposed ‘minimum wage’ legislation leaves behind some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers in the state,” said Lisa McCormick, a progressive Democrat. “It’s too little, too late and insulting after a year of pay hikes for top government officials, nuclear subsidies, and other corporate welfare schemes.”
The bill would carve out exemptions that leave young people, farm workers, seasonal employees, and those on the payroll at businesses with fewer than 10 employees on a separate track to earn $15 an hour by 2029 – an 11 year phase-in.
Tipped workers, who make just $2.13 an hour would see their minimum wage raised to $5.13, which is still less than the federal minimum wage and just 1/3 of the $15 hourly pay rate needed for an individual to live in this region.
Under current law, an employer must make up the difference if a server is not making the state’s minimum wage once tips are included, and this would continue to be the case under Coughlin’s plan.
“I don’t know why some politicians think waitresses don’t deserve to earn enough to eat,” said McCormick, who challenged Coughlin to work a shift at a busy diner or spend a day doing agricultural labor with some of the people his bill would deny a living wage.
Her sentiments were echoed by leaders of some of the state’s civic groups.
“The bill as written would codify them as a sub-minimum wage underclass,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “This is just plain wrong.”
“Instead of raising all workers to $15 over the course of 5 years, it creates multiple classes of work and wages, with farm, youth, seasonal, and small business employees getting to $15 in no less than a decade, and tipped workers capped at $5.13,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director ofNew Jersey Working Families. “In a state where nearly 40% of New Jersey households struggle to afford basic needs, it is disheartening that Democrats would turn against working poor families.”
Mejia noted that during the Christie administration, both houses of the legislature passed a $15 minimum wage for all workers.
In the year since Gov. Phil Murphy has been in office with large Democratic legislative majorities, there has been no movement despite making a minimum wage hike a centerpiece of the 2017 campaign.
Senate President Steve Sweeney — a frequent collaborator of former Republican Gov. Chris Christie — praised Coughlin’s legislation, calling it “a smart and progressive plan.”
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