NJ takes the first step in the Fight for $15!

essexff15Last night the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders endorsed a $15 an hour minimum wage in the state of New Jersey, as well as the right to organize and form a union. Essex is the most populated county in New Jersey, and the first county to endorse the Fight for $15.

“Many people who work hard every day still cannot afford the basic necessities in life such as food, housing, transportation and childcare,” said Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake. “This is because the minimum wage is too low compared to the rising cost of living. How is it that over the years the cost of everything seems to be increasing, including housing, utilities, tolls, taxes, a gallon of milk or a carton of eggs, but when the topic of raising the minimum wage to a living wage is discussed, some people do not agree? If we cannot stop the cost of living from rising, we must fight for what is right. I know firsthand how the current minimum wage can hurt families, limit opportunities, and devastate communities. Today we are calling on New Jersey Legislators and the Governor to make our state a leader in the nationwide fight for $15.”

New Jersey has become a major front in the fight for higher wages and workers rights thanks to robust union organizing campaigns and grassroots activism around progressive policies. In 2013 voters overwhelmingly approved a minimum wage increase from $7.25 to $8.25. And in September 2013 Jersey City became the first city to pass a bill that guaranteed workers right to earn paid sick days. Eight cities have followed Jersey City since 2009.

“Workers desperately needed the raise voters approved in 2013, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families. “Around the country low-wage workers are fighting for and winning family sustaining wages while New Jersey falls behind. Until companies, home care agencies, child care jobs, and airports pay a living wage and recognize the right of unionize, the Fight for $15 will only continue to grow here in the Garden State.”

Despite being one of the highest cost states in the country, the New Jersey the minimum wage is just $8.38, a little more than a dollar above the federal floor of $7.25. Though the recent increase indexed the minimum wage to inflation, the State Department of Labor recently announced that workers will see no increase in 2016.

“The fact that New Jersey’s minimum wage is staying at $8.38 an hour is a wake-up call to revive the conversation about higher pay for working men and women in our state – and we thank the Essex County Freeholders for leading that charge,” said Jon Whiten, Deputy Director of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “It’s beyond debate that poorly paid people can’t get even survive on $8.38 an hour. When some of our neighbors put in 40 hours a week of hard work, only to be homeless, destitute or reliant on the social safety net or private charity to put food on the table or clothes on their backs, it’s clear that the economy isn’t working for everyone. Raising the pay of working men and women is one important way to fix it.”

According to a report from the United Way of Northern New Jersey, a single New Jerseyan with no children would need to earn $13.78 just to make basic needs like food and shelter, and $19.73 to achieve basic economic stability.

“Essex County Freeholders are standing on the right side of history by approving a resolution calling for a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and NJ State Director. “Across the nation and here in New Jersey, there’s been a groundswell of support for the Fight for $15 Campaign.  That’s because a living wage will help put many low wage workers on a path to the middle class and allow them to contribute even more to their communities and the economy.”

What began as an organizing campaign by fast food workers in New York City has quickly transformed into a nationwide movement for a genuine living wage that has won concessions from multinational corporations like Walmart and McDonalds and prompted Seattle to become the first city in the country to chart a course for a $15 minimum wage. San Francisco quickly followed, and in September 2015 Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would make a major push for a $15 an hour minimum wage in New York State.

“Earning $15 an hour would make a big difference to my family’s financial situation,” said Pat Matthews, a certified nursing assistant from Newark and a member of 1199SEIU.   “I’ve worked at a nursing home for the past 12 years and make $11.96 an hour.  My daughter just graduated high school and started college, and she’s trying her best to support herself by working part time at a supermarket.  But it’s an everyday struggle for us.”