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  • Proposal Introduced in New Jersey to Raise Minimum Wage to $15

    Recently, New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (“President Sweeney”) announced that he will attempt to gradually increase the state minimum wage to $15 an hour vis-à-vis a state constitutional amendment.

    Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and New Jersey’s minimum wage is $8.38. President Sweeney’s proposal, if passed, will increase the state’s minimum wage to $9 per hour in its first year and $1 each year thereafter until the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour in 2024. While announcing the proposal, Sweeney said that, “I believe the best social program is a fair-paying job. The fact is, the minimum wage, both on the federal level and here in New Jersey, doesn’t allow full-time workers to avoid living at the poverty level.”

    By imposing the increase through a state constitutional amendment, President Sweeney is seeking to avoid a veto by Governor Chris Christie. “I watched the end of that movie where you pass the bill and the governor vetoes it. I’ve seen that one before; the governor has already signaled he’s not going to do this, I’m serious about raising the minimum wage,” Sweeney said. “There’s a reality that the 8 dollars and 38 cents doesn’t work, we’re way behind, so this gives us an opportunity to go to the people and give workers an opportunity to live with dignity and respect.” According to President Sweeney, the proposed bill mirrors federal legislation introduced recently by Rep. Donald Norcros.

    In response to the proposals, the New Jersey State Assembly’s Republican leader Jon Bramnick criticized the proposed increase as bad public policy. Bramnick said, “Business owners already find New Jersey’s business environment to be difficult with high taxes and burdensome regulations.”

    President Sweeney’s proposal followed another proposal in the New Jersey legislature introduced by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto a week earlier. Prieto’s bill also calls for a $15 per hour minimum wage in New Jersey. While President Sweeney’s proposal is a constitutional amendment that state voters would ultimately decide if placed on the ballot in 2017, Prieto’s bill will have to go through New Jersey’s state legislature and be approved by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Moreover, Prieto’s bill calls for an immediate increase, whereas President Sweeney’s bill calls for a gradual increase over a period of a few years.

    According to a news release dated December 21, 2015 by the National Employment Law Project, 14 cities and states have voted in favor of phasing in a $15 per hour minimum wage in the next several years. For example, the State of New York became the first state last year to approve a statewide $15 minimum wage for certain workers. Seattle adopted a $15 minimum wage in 2014.

    Employers are advised to frequently check federal, state, and local laws regarding minimum and overtime wages in order to ensure compliance.

    If your institution has questions or concerns regarding employment or litigation related issues, please contact James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or at (516) 357 – 3750.

    Thank you to Garam Choe, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for his help with this post.