Bergen County has become the first county in the state to raise the minimum wage for county employees to $15 per hour, a move that will further stoke the ongoing debate between state Democrats and Republicans on whether to implement a wage hike throughout New Jersey.
“Good people are essential to good government, and good managers understand that their employees need to be valued,” said Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, during a Nov. 21 press conference that announced the minimum wage increase.
The raise will affect about 130 county workers who work 40 hours or more per week , and was lauded by the county’s main union, the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and proponents of a statewide $15 minimum wage.
“In 2017 the Freeholders and County Executive were able to deliver a responsible budget with a tax decrease, and our analysis proves that a $15 minimum wage is not only something we can afford, but something that will positively affect the County’s economy and still allow us to hold the line on taxes,” said Freeholder Vice Chairman Tom Sullivan. “It is also the right thing to do. Today we are setting the example, not only for governments in Bergen County and New Jersey, but demonstrating this is a great business decision for the private sector as well.”
The announcement of the wage increase in Bergen County came on the same day that Gov.-Elect Phil Murphy held a press conference with the state’s Democratic leadership, in which he announced his plan to gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next few years, a promise he also made during his campaign.
The minimum wage raise, if enacted after Murphy is sworn in on Jan. 16, would affect over a million state and county employees, especially in the food service and retail industries.
"We have to do it responsibly, but we must get there," said Murphy during the press conference. "This is as high on the priority list as anything we've got."
State Senate minority leader Tom Kean Jr. (R - 21st District), said in a Nov. 20 interview exclusively with NJBIZ, that state Republicans do want to raise the minimum wage, but to a lesser degree, and vowed that state Republicans would oppose a hike of that amount because it would drive businesses out of the state raise the costs of goods.
“Senate Republicans believe we can increase minimum wage by a moderate amount, but that’s not $15,” he said. “We can raise it and reduce the tax burden on the middle class. I think we can find some real common ground here,” he said.
Republicans are now outnumbered 25-15 in the Senate and 54-26 in the Assembly.