Transitions are often unsettling. Turning the page and facing the unfamiliar when we are at the crossroads of personal, professional or political change can be disconcerting – unless you have a plan for how to meet the challenge and forge ahead.
As Gov.-elect Phil Murphy prepares to take office this month, there is understandable angst in the business community about the progressive agenda he has promised and the impact it could have on New Jersey employers. Our new governor has advanced a number of ideas that will be a challenge for New Jersey businesses, but the one I hear about most from NJBIA members is his plan to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8.60 to $15 an hour.
Legislative leaders and their majority party caucuses, whose last bill to increase the minimum wage was vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, have embraced Gov.-elect Murphy’s promise to act on raising hourly wages and will soon be working out the details on how to do it. A higher minimum wage is coming. Sticking our heads in the sand, or drawing a proverbial line in it, will not stop this from happening.
As the voice of New Jersey businesses who provide more than 1 million jobs in this state, NJBIA will always speak up for our members to forcefully and civilly articulate the challenges a higher minimum wage will create. But we must be pragmatic as well so that we don’t slam the door on discussions that could yield necessary compromises and more comprehensive reforms to mitigate the impact of what could otherwise be ahead.
This means NJBIA will be part of the conversations with the administration and legislative leadership in order to work for concessions important to our members. These include carve-outs with exemptions for certain positions, e.g. farmworkers and employees of seasonal tourism businesses; training wages for teenagers; a gradual phase-in of any minimum wage increases; and the inclusion of “economic off-ramp” provisions to protect small businesses from having to pay scheduled minimum wage increases during a major economic downturn or in the wake of a natural disaster, such as Superstorm Sandy.
Most importantly, we need to ensure the discussions in the Statehouse go beyond simply paying people more money for entry-level work. This must be a much broader conversation about workforce development and what is needed to help boost the skills of low-wage workers so that they can earn higher paychecks – not just arbitrarily raising wages for low-skill jobs. That’s why NJBIA’s Post-Secondary Education Task Force has been actively working with academia, government officials, nonprofits and business leaders to develop strategies for matching education programs to private sector jobs to build better career pathways for well-paying middle class positions.
We can be encouraged by the fact that Gov.-elect Murphy has promised a fairer economy for all New Jerseyans, and that includes business owners. He has promised to give the business community a seat at the table and NJBIA is committed to being open-minded during this process, to listen and to inform, so that we are able to make a difference in whatever the ultimate policies are going to be. Negotiated solutions are better than unilateral ones made in a vacuum.
Intransigent opposition isn’t a winning strategy, and it won’t produce results when the governor-elect and legislative majority are in lockstep about enacting a higher minimum wage. We have to lean in and advance the alternatives, options and neutralizers needed to get the best possible compromise for our members.