Push for Prevailing Wages at State Transit Hubs Passes Assembly

Newark Airport Workers have been pushing for increased wages. KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

The New Jersey General Assembly on Thursday passed legislation requiring that subcontracted Newark Liberty Airport, Hoboken Terminal and Newark Penn Station employees be paid prevailing wages, a move that is estimated to bring wages for those employees up to $17.98 per hour according to the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

The bill, A-4870/S-3226, was sponsored in the Assembly by Democrats including Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and in the state Senate by Democrats including Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester). It passed the Assembly on Thursday with 51 yes votes, 23 no votes, and one abstention and will now go to the state Senate for consideration. The measure passed without Republican support.

“When you look at Liberty International, it is one of our biggest employers,” said Prieto (D-Hudson) from the Assembly floor prior to the bill being posted for a vote. “When these individuals live near these centers that should be an economic engine for the region, they should be able to be paid fair wage that is put back into the economy.”

The New Jersey minimum wage is currently $8.38 per hour. Subcontracted workers at Newark Airport make $10.20 per hour. Labor groups around the country are pushing for those wages to be boosted to $15 per hour, a figure lower than NJBIA estimates for the prevailing wage bill.

While Democrats in the legislature favor the initiative, the NJBIA says that the sharp wage boost would “substantially increase the costs for business, which will then be passed along to consumers.” While they estimate the $17.98 prevailing wage for these workers under the legislation, NJBIA says that mandated sick leave, health insurance and paid vacation days would have the same effect as boosting the minimum wage to $22.25 an hour. Michele Siekerka, President and CEO of NJBIA, said that by including such “expensive fringe benefits” as part of the legislation, the bill also eliminates collective bargaining and contract negotiation.

“Businesses, no matter how large, cannot withstand a more than 100 percent increase in the minimum wage,” said Siekerka in a statement. “This bill would force businesses to increase their prices or lay off workers to pay for it, which in turn, will make it harder for them to compete, even against businesses in the same city.”

But, for bill co-sponsor Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, the legislation –known as the Safe Transportation Jobs and Fair Employment Rules Act– is a critical step toward income equity and represents the Legislature speaking up for working class people. In a statement, Oliver pointed out discrepancies between how much employees at Newark Airport make compared with their New York City counterparts.

“This is all about fairness and income equality,” said Oliver. “The people who work these often difficult jobs to make our travel and commutes as easy as possible deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. This bill would be a great step toward accomplishing that goal.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has said he does not support boosting the minimum wage so it is unlikely that he will sign the legislation. Democratic candidate for governor Phil Murphy supports boosting the minimum wage so it is possible the legislation will move forward if Murphy is elected in November. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, has said she does not support a substantial increase to the minimum wage.

Push for Prevailing Wages at State Transit Hubs Passes Assembly