Coalition: Raise Minimum Wage

CourierPostOnline — Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gannett State Bureau

A workers' advocacy coalition called Tuesday for raising the state's minimum wage from $7.15 an hour to $8.50 an hour, which would make New Jersey's 40,000 bottom-end workers the highest-paid in the nation.

Almost immediately, the idea got shot down, even by the labor-union lawmaker who is sponsoring a minimum-wage bill that he said won't see daylight this year.

"Unfortunately, the cost of living doesn't take a vacation," said Jon Shure, president of a group called New Jersey Policy Perspective, pushing for the rise.

"We are the "Raise the Wage Campaign' and starting today, we will be working to get people the raise they need," said Shure. "New Jersey should join 10 other states that automatically increase their minimum wage every year to keep up with the cost of living."

Eighteen groups were represented at the State House news conference.

"We expect there will be strong opposition from the business lobby," said Marilyn Carpinteyro, the legislative-political director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

Initial reaction from the business community came in negative.

"We are very concerned about the ripple effect," said Deborah Dowdell, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, adding later, "Our economy is not in a position now to be dealing with a double blow."

The "double blow" she referenced was the enactment of a law allowing workers to take paid family leave, which had been stridently opposed by commercial interests. It takes effect next year.

Laurie Ehlbeck, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said, "Our members are generally against minimum-wage increases . . . It is hard for small business to stay competitive in the big-business world."

Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who is also an official of an ironworkers' local, said, "I would not be comfortable doing that bill now. I think we have to give the business community a chance to breathe. . . . It (the bill) is not going to move this year."

"Family leave was an enormous battle," Sweeney said. "You can't just pile things on."

Last December, a state commission tasked to monitor New Jersey's minimum wage issued a report calling for the level to be increased to $8.25 per hour and tied to inflation, though the Legislature didn't act.

New Jersey's $7.15 per hour is the nation's 13th highest. New York pays $7.15, as do Delaware, Alaska and Pennsylvania. Connecticut pays $7.65 per hour, and Massachusetts and California pay $8 an hour. Washington State tops the list at $8.07

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