A proposed increase in the state minimum wage, from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, advanced out of a legislative committee today over united opposition from employer representatives.
The increase was backed by some public policy groups, who contend that the measure will improve conditions for low-wage workers, who will put the money back into the economy.
However, businesses raised concern about the impact on their payrolls.
"An increase in the minimum wage only makes recovery more difficult," said Joe Olivo, co-owner of Moorestown-based Perfect Printing.
Olivo said four of his 48 employees are temporary workers whose pay is tied to the minimum wage. With a wage increase, he said, he would be forced to cut other costs, perhaps by limiting overtime.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-East Orange), the bill sponsor, said the measure would benefit both middle-class workers who have taken on minimum-wage jobs to supplement their income, as well as those who cannot afford basic living expenses.
"Some of the industries in New Jersey and nationally who pretty much pay minimum-wage earners are not going out of business," she said. "Many of these businesses are flourishing."
Scot Mackey, an MBI-GluckShaw lobbyist representing Great Adventure, said the amusement park is facing a $1.3 million expense from the bill. Mackey asked the bill be amended to provide an exemption for all students who are working.
Meanwhile, Michael Egenton, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, said the measure would squeeze employers who already are under pressure.
"They didn't put (an increase) into their budget for this year or for next year," Egenton said.
At the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, Vice President Stefanie A. Riehl proposed the state instead focus on increasing employee training.
"It's through that education and training that they'll be able to achieve higher wages on their own without a minimum-wage increase," she said.
Kathleen A. Davis, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said businesses cannot invest in the state if costs continue to rise. She pointed to the example of William Eubanks III, who closed 21 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in South Jersey after the last state minimum wage increase.
"New Jersey is an expensive state in which to live, but it's also expensive for the businesses and if they're costs continue to increase, they can't create jobs," Davis said.
The measure also was opposed by the National Federation of Independent Business, the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, the New Jersey Food Council and the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
Anne Thompson, a policy analyst for the nonprofit National Employment Law Project, said the economy would benefit from the increase, while employers would see less turnover and employee absenteeism.
Lakisha Williams, who assists people who need wheelchairs at Newark Liberty International Airport, said the minimum wage she has received for the past eight years is insufficient to support her family.
"I am the parent of a 12-year-old daughter — she is very expensive," Williams said, noting that her weekly pay equaled $290 before taxes.
Labor groups backed the measure, with state AFL-CIO lobbyist Eric Richard saying the state minimum wage would be $10.39 per hour if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968.
"Most businesses will keep their work force at the existing level, and consumer demand will drive" growth, Richard said.