The Assembly Labor Committee will vote on a bill Monday that would raise the minimum wage for most workers to $15 an hour by 2024, up from the current $8.60 hourly rate.
Assembly Bill 15 would also enact a slower rate increase to a $15 hourly rate by 2029 for farmers, teenage and seasonal workers, and businesses with less than 10 employees.
Hourly wages would increase to $9.50 on July 1, 2019, and then to $11 on Jan. 1, 2020. The rate would increase $1 each year between 2021 and 2024 until it reaches $15 an hour. In October, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced it will increase the minimum wage will to $8.85 Jan. 1.
“This bill addresses the issue of helping New Jersey’s working poor be better able to afford living in the state while taking into consideration the concerns of the state’s valued small business community,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, said in a statement.
Coughlin and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, had been working together to hammer out the bill released Thursday, a legislative source said.
Sweeney wanted exemptions for certain workers, a proposal opposed by Gov. Phil Murphy, who wanted across-the-board, phased-in wage increases. Murphy’s office could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Too many of our fellow citizens work full-time jobs but have to struggle to support themselves and their families,” Sweeney said in a statement. “The dignity of hard work should be respected with fair pay. A minimum wage should be a living wage.”
Policy think-tank New Jersey Policy Perspective lambasted the slower rate increase for certain workers, calling it an “affront to hundreds of thousands of workers who will be left behind” by the proposed legislation.
“Creating new exemptions in the minimum wage runs counter to the notion of equal pay for equal work and will further exacerbate income inequality by creating a sub-minimum-wage underclass,” NJPP Director of Government and Public Affairs Brandon McKoy said in a statement.
Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, called the bill a “start to recognizing that a slow process for the minimum wage” is the best approach for lawmakers and businesses.
“It has to be slow and steady so that businesses over a period of years can plan properly and know what’s coming down the pipe,” Siekerka said at the NJBIA’s business outlook press conference in Trenton.
And Tom Bracken, president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that although a slower phase-in for certain businesses is a step in the right direction, the chamber would much rather see an overall exemption for those groups.
“That’s approaching a reasonable time frame, the fact that they want to phase in more seriously impacted groups,” Bracken said. Those businesses with the slower increase would still “incur pains” from the bill, he said.
Sweeney classified Thursday’s bill as a “working document.”
“We will work with legislators, advocates and others to finalize a plan that will be approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law,” he said. “We want to get input from others, but we can now do that with a good proposal that achieves our shared goal of getting to $15 in a responsible way.”
In its 60th Annual Business Outlook Survey, released Thursday, the NJBIA said that 66 percent of its members believed they would be negatively impacted by a wage increase to $15 an hour.
To offset the price increases, 32 percent of businesses said they would raise prices, 26 percent said they would reduce staff, 24 percent said they would reduce hours and 13 percent would increase automation.
The survey comprised responses from 898 of the organization's 16,024 contacts.