ELIZABETH, N.J. — New Jersey became the latest state on Monday to boost its hourly minimum wage to $15 after Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a measure phasing in the higher rate over five years.
Murphy signed the bill alongside Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Democratic legislative leaders at a raucous event in Elizabeth where advocates cheered, "Ready for 15," carried banners with their union affiliation and applauded loudly once the bill was signed.
"It is a great day to make some history for New Jersey's working families," Murphy said. "And that's just what we're going to do. We've talked long enough about putting New Jersey on a responsible path to $15 an hour minimum wage. Today we start our way on this path."
New Jersey joins California, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia in phasing in the higher rate. The $15 wage is a prominent policy goal of left-leaning groups, as well as the fulfillment of a key campaign promise by Murphy.
The governor, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced a deal on the higher wage last month following yearslong efforts by left-leaning groups and unions in the state to raise the wage.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill in 2016 to raise the wage.
Republicans and many businesses testified during hearings that the higher wage will increase costs and hurt commerce.
The bill raises the current $8.85 minimum wage to $10 an hour in July, and then increases the rate by $1 in subsequent years until it reaches $15 in 2024 — but not for all workers.
Farm workers' wages will climb to $12.50 over five years, for example. Workers for small businesses and seasonal employees will only see their minimum wage reach $15 an hour in 2026. Tipped workers, who currently have a minimum hourly wage of $2.13, will see it climb to $5.13 an hour by 2024.
"Sometimes I do take extra work to make ends meet," said Nigel Blair, a server in Jersey City.
He supports his mother and says low wages can mean tough conversations
"Mom, I think I need to get your medication instead of food because you really need the medication," Blair recalled one recent conversation. "Because she is diabetic."
The new law comes as the 2020 presidential contest begins to take shape, with Sen. Coy Booker of New Jersey announcing last week his plan to compete in the Democratic primary next year.
Oliver, the lieutenant governor, implored those assembled Monday to push for a higher minimum wage as part of the next election, eliciting one of the loudest applauses of the day.
"I don't want you to forget 2020 because we need a federal minimum wage (hike)," she said.
A constitutional amendment that raised the minimum wage and requires it to climb with inflation went into effect in 2013 in New Jersey. Once the wage reaches $15 in 2024, it will continue to climb based on the consumer price index because of that amendment.
Business owners have said it will be tough for them to afford the new minimum wage. And they may also have to make tough decisions, such as raising prices or closing up shop.
"After calling for a responsible, slow and predictive pathway to increasing the minimum wage, we are disappointed that our policymakers have put into place a plan that will result in a 35 percent cost increase to New Jersey's small businesses, when including the increased wage and payroll taxes, within just 11 months," said New Jersey Business and Industry Association President and CEO Michele N. Siekerka. "These job creators have told us that this action will increase their labor costs both in the short and long term; impacting the slim profit margins they already face given their need to contend with the highest taxes and worst business climate in the nation."
Gov. Murphy discusses the wage increase: