TRENTON – It’s the battleground district race that encompasses the entire state: The referendum on increasing the minimum wage.
Small-business owners who support next Tuesday’s ballot question to hike the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 weighed in this morning as advocates unveiled a video on social media they say bolsters their argument that a $1 boost for the lowest-paid workers helps the economy.
Countering opponents’ claims that jumping the minimum wage will lead to layoffs or to business owners simply not hiring people, one business owner framed the debate as being about class warfare.
“They are advocating for people who are operating at the margins of ethical behavior,’’ said J. Kelly Conklin, who with his wife operates an architectural woodworking business in Bloomfield, Foley-Waite Associates.
His operation consistently has paid above minimum wage, and has been essentially at double minimum wage, he said.
Another small-business owner, Adam Woods, Owner of Camden Printworks, said he recently started a new employee from North Philadelphia at $10 an hour. But he knows of people in Camden, “far and away the poorest city in the state,’’ who work two or three jobs and still qualify for food stamps.
“Good luck being middle class if you’re making minimum wage,’’ he said.
The push today for voting yes on the question next Tuesday was organized by the N.J. Main Street Alliance, an association of 1,400 small-business owners, who want to counter opponents’ argument that it is the small-business mom-and-pop type of operations that will suffer if the voters OK the referendum.
“It’s about the whole issue of inequality,’’ said Corinne Horowitz of the Alliance, “giving people at the bottom a boost. An important part of the business community actually supports the increase.’’
Two aspects of the question that really have irked opponents: Tying future hikes to the cost of living, and amending the state Constitution to accomplish this goal.
Supporters have said, however, a hike is long overdue, a ballot question was needed because of unsuccessful efforts in the Statehouse, and it will lead to minimum-wage workers greasing the economic wheel because they will not deposit their additional wages in bank accounts; they’ll spend them on consumer goods.
“Consumer spending is at the heart of our economy, this cannot be stressed enough,’’ said Holly Sklar, director of the national advocacy group, Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.
Opponents have maintained that a more responsible approach was the one offered by Gov. Chris Christie: Phase in a $1 increase over a few years, and by all means decouple it from a cost-of-living locomotive.
But when Christie offered that option and vetoed a bill that would have actually hiked the wage by $1.25, legislative Democrats put it on the ballot for the voters to decide.
Opponents fire back
Phil Kirschner, head of the N.J. Business and Industry Association, downplayed the Main Street Alliance tactic today.
“The overwhelming majority (of business owners) understand that without additional revenues, hours and shifts will be cut, full-time workers will become part-time workers,” he said.
It is an issue of ideology and competitiveness as well.
According to Kirschner, some of these owners who pay more than minimum wage risk losing business to a competitor who isn’t paying more than minimum wage. A constitutionally endorsed level playing field may sound fine ideologically, but it is not sound business practice, he explained.