Minimum wage hike: Newark workers will make $15 an hour by 2018, mayor says

By Laura Herzog | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on March 16, 2016

NEWARK — Residents and officials cheered when Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced Wednesday morning that he would ensure a $15 minimum wage by 2018 for all full- and part-time city employees.

The mayor made his statement at a press conference during which he and four other politicians representing urban areas spoke out in support of a minimum wage increase.

Baraka, who previously asked Port Authority to raise its minimum wage for airport workers, did not immediately know how many city workers make less than $15 an hour. But, he told NJ Advance Media those that did were mostly part-time workers.

He pledged to institute the change by Jan. 2018, the end of his term.

"I think that we ended in a surplus. We have a few dollars to help people," he said, when asked how the city would budget for the change. The exact budgetary impacts of the wage increase were not immediately available.

The rally also included speeches from Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop; Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz, who heads the Urban Mayors Association; Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, whose city recently passed a paid sick leave ordinance; and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto, who has been pushing the 80 percent minimum wage increase statewide.

Fulop already issued an executive order Feb. 29 to raise the minimum wage to $15 for his city's 500 workers who were making less. East Orange and Bloomfield have also passed resolutions to bring their workers up to the $15 minimum wage, according to Connie Jackson, a spokeswoman for East Orange.

Baraka, meanwhile, is the chair of the New Jersey Black Mayors Alliance for Social Justice. The event took place in front of Newark City Hall at 9:30 a.m.

The rally was organized by New Jersey Working Families, an advocacy group which also asked several workers from the area, all making less than $15 an hour, to tell their stories.

New Jersey Working Families is currently advocating for the new minimum wage by 2021, as well as a phase-out the $2.53 minimum wage for tipped workers, and strengthened wage theft laws.

One woman at the rally said she cleans airplanes at Newark International Airport for $10 an hour; another man said he makes $12 an hour, thanks to his union, working at a distribution center for Donna Karan. A second man said he has to work 12 hour days at a pizza place just to make ends meet.

"I don't see any future right now," said Newark resident America Hernandez through an English translator. The Ecuadorian immigrant, who has lived in the United States nearly 30 years, cleans United Airlines airplane interiors and has four children and four grandchildren that she is helping support.

The $15 minimum wage issue has been in the press since fast food workers began to advocate for the raise over a year ago.

Officials emphasized that people making the minimum wage often have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, which takes time away from their children.

In September, officials said, Essex County's freeholders made their county New Jersey's first to endorse the wage, followed by Hudson and Mercer. Prieto and Senate President Stephen Sweeney have since agreed on a merged proposal to gradually raising the state's minimum wage to $15.

Fourteen U.S. cities and states have approved a $15 minimum wage, according to the National Employment Law Project.

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