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New Jersey’s new governor spends first full day in office listening to struggling workers

NEWARK, N.J. —  Governor Phil Murphy spent his first full day in office meeting with his cabinet and listening to the the working poor: teachers aides, cleaning ladies, toll booth workers, nursing home aides and public librarians.

"Deciding whether or not we buy food or we pay for the light bill,” Devika Smith, a single working mother of four, said. "I’m hoping and praying that with Phil Murphy, our new governor, we can get the bill passed.”

Smith works 16-hour days as a nursing home aide. She is talking about the effort to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Currently, New Jersey minimum wage workers make $8.44 an hour.

Murphy listened to other stories like Smith’s, alongside other lawmakers and advocacy groups, like New Jersey Working Families.

"I can’t make ends meet so I work two jobs, seven days,” Carmen Molina, a 25-year-old factory worker who drives an hour to work each day and also works as a clerk in a retail store, said.

Molina said she works to support her disabled mother.

A teachers aide said she has a hard time trying to keep her job and spend time with her family. A mother of five children, three of whom have autism, explained how she dragged her feverish son on the two buses it takes to get to work because her boss told her that if she called out sick, she couldn’t come back.

“I’m state worker. To me, it’s unacceptable for a state worker to be relying on government assistance,” a young man working as a public librarian said.

One of Murphy’s biggest campaign promises was to raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15.

“Minimum wage in this state is not remotely where it needs to be,” he said. "We need to get it where it needs to be as fast as possible.”

Murphy was also asked by reporters how much he will be making this year. The new governor lives in a home worth over $9 million dollars with his wife and four kids. He worked for over two decades as an executive for one of the biggest investment banking houses in the world, Goldman Sachs.

New Jersey’s last democratic governor, John Corzine, also worked at Goldman. Corzine declined to take a salary from state taxpayers.

"I believe I’ll be accepting a salary,” said Murphy.

How much? Murphy would not say.

“I believe I answered the question,” he retorted, when reporters reiterated the question. "I’ll take the salary for the job.”

Murphy is also looking to pass paid sick leave. According to the non-profit New Jersey Working Families, 1.2 million New Jersey workers cannot earn or use paid sick days. They also say that a quarter of workers have been fired or threatened with job loss for taking sick days.

Murphy also stressed his view that a higher minimum wage will help, not hurt businesses in the state. He said the more money workers earn, the more they will spend at stores.

“The $15 won't make us be able to travel around the world,” said Smith. “But it will just give us a sense of comfort to pay our bills."