Minimum wage hike supporters, opponents testify before Labor Committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Labor Committee began hearing testimony on a bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.

Supporters said raising the wage would help residents keep up with escalating costs of living and put mroe money back in the economy. However, business groups said it would likely lead to fewer hours and prevent future hiring. 

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), of East Orange, prime sponsor of the bill, A2162, said there are 129,000 people who earn minimum wage, if not less, and 29,000 who earn exactly $7.25 per hour. That amounts to $15,000 a year, many of whom don’t receive benefits.

She said the bill is not about scoring political points, but about helping people make a decent living.

“It’s about families struggling to survive,” she said. “It’s not going to be the gloom and doom purported by some.”

She added that data done by universities in Massachusetts, California and North Carolina have found there’s no deleterious impact by the wage hikes. Oliver added that the typical minimum wage worker is not the “stereotypical worker,” such as a teenager.

Anne Thompson of the National Employment Law Project also called for increasing the minimum wage, saying it will help sustain consumer spending and stimulate the economy.  It helps prevent turnover, she said.

Deborah Howlett of the New Jersey Policy Perspective was in favor of the bill.

“In a state with one of the highest median incomes in the nation and one of the highest costs of living, those at the bottom of the wage scale often find it a struggle to raise their families here. The increase may be only $1.25 an hour, but it could mean the difference in families paying a utility bill in full or buying new school clothes for their children.”

However, Michael Egenton of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce said it could force businesses to scale back hours of current workers, and prevent the hiring of new workers, especially when coupled with ever-rising health care costs and taxes.  

“They would have to make some really tough decisions,” he said. “It’s all about meeting their bottom lines.”

Supporters of the bill requested amendments be made to assist workers whose income relies on tips.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, echoed similar sentiments.

“If sales are not rising fast enough to accommodate forced wage hikes, employers will be forced to make tough personnel and operating decisions (such as reducing workers’ hours or cutting other costs),” Riehl said in a statement.  “Unfortunately, an automatic annual increase of wages does not mean an automatic annual increase in sales and revenue to cover the added labor costs.”

Lakisha Williams, 29, who works at Newark Airport as a wheelchair assistant and earns minimum wage, and also receives public assistance, put it simply about the current wage.

“It’s just not enough,” she said. “Please support the bill.”

She said she’s never received a raise in her eight years there.

Minimum wage hike supporters, opponents testify before Labor Committee