This op-ed by Daniel Ulloa, President of AWA, originally appeared in NJ Spotlight.com.


As living costs continue to rise in this expensive state, people are working longer hours for less money just to get by

We need a $15 an hour minimum wage. Too many people are struggling to make ends meet in New Jersey.

Between the costs of housing, child care, transportation, and healthcare more and more people are working longer hours for less money just to get by, much less thrive. And despite the state’s low unemployment, the fact that wages have remained stagnant makes poverty a pressing issue here.

New Jersey is one of the most expensive states in the country to live in. It was recently ranked among the top 10 most unequal state in the nation. Those who are wealthy can enjoy its benefits far more than struggling workers. And while some of those who are currently struggling can go on to achieve prosperity, they unfortunately are more often the exception to the rule. There is no reason thousands should be made to toil for slave wages simply because it’s possible to find a better job.

Raising the minimum wage is always a popular action. In 2013, when Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected, a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage slightly was approved as well, thus showing such a move has bipartisan support.

Some conservatives object because they feel it would be an onerous burden on companies to pay individuals so much money. But if their customers are also making more money, they’re likely to shop more.

$15 minimum would benefit 1.2M workers in NJ

Furthermore, higher wages mean employees won’t be as likely to leave blue-collar jobs — which in turn means businesses won’t have to spend as much time training new staff. In addition, a more satisfied staff is likely to lead to an increase in productivity.

For those who feel that blue-collar workers shouldn’t make the same money as white-collar workers, remember a rising tide lifts all boats.

According to New Jersey Policy Perspective, raising the minimum wage to $15 would raise wages for 1.2 million workers in the state and inject $4.5 billion into the state’s economy.

There has been some talk of watering down the minimum-wage bill to pay youth workers less than $15 an hour. Most are seen as teenagers from middle-classes families who take the jobs merely for spending money. But youth workers need that money. Contrary to the beliefs of some, they have no desire to be a burden but rather would like to contribute and ease their family expenses. This is especially true in the homes of Hispanic families where their paychecks often go in part to sustaining the family. Youth workers must not be treated as second-class citizens.

Discrimination against older workers

Such an exemption from a $15 minimum would also likely lead to massive discrimination against older workers by employers seeking to bypass the law.

There has also been talk of excluding farmworkers. Farmworkers who perform the most arduous duties also must receive a higher wage. Why should they be left out? Many work long hours for little pay in jobs that few would willingly do. Leaving out a class of workers made up overwhelmingly by people of color is an act of blatant racism.

How are we to call ourselves the Garden State if we do not fairly compensate those who make it so?

There has been a great delay now in anticipation of the bill while living expenses continue to increase due to natural inflation. Delaying an increase for too long would erode the effect of raising the minimum wage.

In 2016, a bill to put $15 on the ballot as a referendum passed both legislative chambers easily but was vetoed by Christie and, unfortunately, the political will wasn’t there to override his veto.

Gov. Phil Murphy ran on raising the minimum wage to $15 and made it one of the central planks of his campaign. However, we have been waiting half a year for the bill to be passed. Working men and women cannot afford to wait. They have been waiting long enough while they are exploited, and deals are made to benefit those who don’t need extra protection.

The Legislature must send a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour to the governor now.

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The NLC Labor Summit and the Crumbling of New Jersey

Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ) addressed the NLC Labor Summit Saturday.

By Eddie Rivera

The New Leaders Council’s Labor Summit in Edison on Saturday was a reminder of how New Jersey needs to be a beacon of hope for the labor movement and how far it has fallen. The last eight years with Chris Christie as Governor have derailed the Garden State. New Jersey has fallen behind its neighboring states in every economic measure since the Great Recession. Its credit rating has been downgraded several times. The NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development has seen its budget nearly slashed to death and belittled in integrity. The bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was vetoed last summer and the legislature did not override his veto. State residents are unable to make ends meet. It’s nearly impossible to survive with a low minimum wage and high tuition costs. Imagine raising kids while working three jobs and earning an education. This is a great injustice in a state as prosperous as ours.

In addition, Trump’s presidency has only made it worse. His appointment to the Supreme Court is likely to vote in favor of weakening labor unions while a similar bill is pending in Congress. The regulatory gains made by the Obama Administration in the face opposition are being turned back. His administration is stacked with plutocrats seeking to benefits their cronies at the expense of the American people. As Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ) pointed out, there are a handful of individuals in the United States Congress who have been in a labor union.

This weekend’s summit was a reminder to on its laurels in the long war against Hypercapitalism when small gains are achieved. Now is the time to fight for the preservation of the Labor Movement in New Jersey and the country as a whole. We as a state cannot continue to move backward. Now is the opportunity to turn the page and move forward back to the progressive values we in the Garden State hold dear. With so much diversity, New Jersey needs to demonstrate progressivism in all areas of public policy. Each of the panelists has expressed their views on labor with much thought and deliberation.

Without labor, New Jersey cannot function. We need reform to continue robust activity within the transportation, manufacturing, health, education, and customer service sectors. Everyone should be entitled to pension and benefits in their respective fields. I urge everyone to continue the fight for a better New Jersey. Eight years of falling behind the rest of the nation has gone long enough. Let us all come together and make all our dreams come true once again.

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