EAST ORANGE, NJ - Gov. Chris Christie got it wrong.
On Tuesday, August 30, 2016, days before the nation recognizes Labor Day, a federal holiday created by the labor movement to celebrate the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country, Gov. Christie denied a living wage to thousands of hardworking New Jerseyans with his veto of the $15 minimum wage bill.
The bill proposed to increase the state's minimum wage in yearly increments, reaching up to $15 an hour by 2021. Gov. Christie called such an increase "radical," but residents may disagree. In 2013, voters agreed to a wage hike to address the high cost of living in the state of New Jersey, and I believe that these same voters are anxious for another opportunity to voice their support for a fair and livable wage for working families.
Although an increase to the minimum wage has never been intended to be a fix-all solution, it is the responsibility of good government to create legislation so that every citizen has the tools to become economically self-sufficient. In communities much like East Orange, men and women are working 40 or more hours a week, only to struggle to make an income of $17,400. That's several thousand dollars below the federal poverty threshold for a family of three and an amount nearly impossible to live on without substantial federal assistance.
In New Jersey, municipalities have already taken action where Gov. Christie has refused to do so. In January, East Orange was the first in the state to increase the municipal minimum wage across the board. Working with our largest labor union, Communication Workers of America (CWA), we negotiated a contract through collective bargaining that provides a fair and livable wage of $15 an hour for union members to support themselves and loved ones.
Neighboring communities in Essex County such as Bloomfield, which passed a resolution to increase its own municipal minimum wage to $15 an hour, are making similar gains. These negotiated agreements and policies set a local precedent and demonstrate unified support for good government. As illustrated in Benjamin Barber's groundbreaking book If Mayors Ruled the World, my peers and I are sharing the best of urban practices and representing the new paradigm of governance in our country. We are embodying Barber's theory that cities can collectively impact global change.
It has taken far too long for our leaders to have a real conversation about the economic disparity facing millions of Americans every day. Now is the time for solutions; not promises or ideological pandering about the role of government. The $15 minimum wage bill may have been defeated, but our ongoing efforts to fight for the rights of working families in New Jersey - whether it be at the local or state level - must carry on.