Fight For 15$

8 months ago
Charlie Sprang

Dec 6, 2018
CHERRY HILL, NJ – Today, U.S. Congressman Donald Norcross – a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, an electrician by trade and original co-sponsor of the Raise the Wage Act of 2017 – issued the below statement following the introduction of legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in New Jersey by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin:

“Governor Murphy, Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin joined me for their first public appearance together calling for $15 an hour minimum wage a little more than a year ago. Today, I’m glad to see that the process has begun in the legislature.

“We know that New Jersey working families need and deserve a raise. South Jersey businesses like Cooper, Jefferson and Virtua Health are leading the way; they all recently announced they’ll be raising the wage to at least $15 an hour because they know the current floor is far too low. And business groups, employers and working families agree – America’s workers deserve a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.

“As the 116th Congress kicks off in January, I will, once again, proudly introduce the Raise the Wage Act so all fulltime working Americans receive a living wage.”

An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) member and electrician by trade, Norcross has a long history of fighting for workers. He fought day in and day out to ensure South Jersey workers had good-paying jobs as a business agent for IBEW Local 351 and as president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO. In the New Jersey state legislature, he was part of the successful fight to raise the minimum wage in New Jersey.

In related news, the city of Philadelphia did the same thing today.


A new bill, approved by City Council Thursday and expected to be signed into law by Mayor Kenney, could help him get those hours. The “Fair Workweek” legislation, part of a national movement to provide more predictability in the lives of retail, fast-food, and hotel workers, passed 14-3, nearly a year after advocates and workers launched a campaign to fight for more predictable scheduling.

The bill requires employers with more than 30 locations and 250 employees to give workers two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules and offer “predictability pay” if schedules change after-the-fact. It also requires employers to offer available shifts to existing employees rather than hiring new ones, a move that could help bring part-time workers, like Wiggins, closer to full time.

Councilmembers David Oh, Al Taubenberger, and Brian O’Neill voted against the bill. O’Neill said he doesn’t think unionized workers, who are covered in the bill, need those protections. This was a part of the bill that labor advocates had fought for.

Thursday’s vote makes Philadelphia the second-biggest city in the country, after New York, to pass a scheduling law.

It’s expected to affect 130,000 workers, according to Councilwoman Helen Gym’s office, including those who are unionized (unless their contract stipulates an exemption) and hotel workers — Philadelphia would be the only city to pass a “Fair Workweek” law that covers the hotel industry. (The State of Oregon’s bill, however, does cover hotel workers.)

One possible threat to the law is a pre-emption bill under consideration in Harrisburg that would stop cities from passing workplace laws. State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) has said these worker-oriented laws cause “multiple human-relations problems and compliance issues.”

Another major concern is enforcement: The Mayor’s Office of Labor would be in charge of enforcing the new rules, along with paid sick leave and wage theft laws. Richie Lazer, who heads the office, said he hopes to work more closely with community groups to spread the word about workplace laws.

Also Thursday, Council voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage for city workers and those employed by city contractors and subcontractors to $15. That bill was introduced by Councilperson Mark Squilla on behalf of Kenney, and it builds on a 2014 action that raised the minimum to $12 an hour. The city is not sure how many contracted and subcontracted workers the law would affect but said it would likely include those employed by social-service agencies, like after-school aides and custodians.

“This is a time period when people feel like there’s such little movement for issues for working Americans,” Gym said in an interview Wednesday. “We in our city are choosing to do something about it, and I think it matters that we’re doing it in the poorest big city in America.”

A controversial bill

The fight for the Fair Workweek bill, the latest in a national trend of cities and states passing similar laws, has been more contentious than that of the minimum wage hike. (No opponents to the wage bill testified at a City Council hearing in late November.) Supporters of the bill, from the Democratic Socialists of America to the interfaith group POWER to labor unions, packed City Council during an October hearing and again the following month. Advocates hosted numerous rallies and marches throughout the year to keep attention on the issue.

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce had fiercely opposed the bill, saying that it would hurt business growth in a city that badly needs it. But Thursday, the Chamber offered a milder tone in a statement, “While the ordinance passed today has objectionable components, the Chamber looks forward to working with the City to further ameliorate its concerns.” It also suggested that changes could be made to how the bill would be enforced among hotels and franchises.

Other opponents included the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, which said the bill would hurt the tourism industry in the city; chains like Wendy’s and Target, which vastly expanded their footprints in Philadelphia in the past year; and the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association.

Gym, who introduced the bill with seven co-sponsors in June, sold it as “anti-poverty” legislation, said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, but he noted that the average hotel worker is not living in poverty. According to a survey conducted by the association, hotel workers make $44,000 on average.

Some hotel workers, like those with the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, say that their unpredictable schedules can result in lower take-home pay, even if their hourly rates have been increased.

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