Chaparro, Chiaravalloti, Sacco, Lonegan debate $15 minimum wage in NJ


Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33), Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31), state Senator/North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco (D-32) and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan were all part of a Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership panel about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Chaparro, who said she’s worked at a number of minimum wage jobs, stated that the cost of living in her Legislative District is a perfect example of why the minimum wage needs to be gradually raised to $15 an hour.

” … I don’t think, with gradually bringing the minimum wage up to $15 [an hour], right now we’re gonna bring it to $10.10, that’s not so much … I can’t imagine paying someone an extra $1.72 an hour is gonna shut your business down,” she said.

Lonegan, who recently served as the New Jersey State Chairman for the Ted Cruz for president campaign, quickly got into a war of words with former state Senator and Assemblyman Gordon MacInnes over what raising the minimum wage will actually accomplish.

“Why don’t we got right to $25 an hour? Because we could eliminate all poverty, right? Let’s go to $25 an hour and get it over with: everybody will be doing great and we’ll all be rich,” quipped Lonegan.

“If you want to make that recommendation to the Koch brothers, who are financing your effort, go ahead, I don’t think they’ll buy it Mr. Lonegan,” responded Gordon MacInnes, a former state Senator and Assemblyman.

Lonegan called a $15 an hour minimum wage “arbitrary,” but MacInnes said someone earning that would only be making a gross annual income of $30,000.

Michele Siekerka, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association president and CEO, agreed with Lonegan that $15 an hour is an arbitrary number for minimum wage.

“This is an arbitrary number, it’s a good sound bite, fight for 15, we’ve got that at the national level, okay? But you want to talk about survivability, $15 doesn’t cut it in New Jersey. We have an affordability issues in New Jersey,” she said.

“If we just talk one side of the balance sheet for the state’s economy, talk about increasing wages and not talk about increasing affordability.”

Siekerka later added that a study in Seattle, where the minimum wage is currently $11 an hour, has improved quality of life for some workers, but has done nothing to create more jobs and has therefore done nothing to resolve bigger picture issues.

When asked if he believes raising the minimum wage would hope close the gender gap, Sacco said the issue goes far beyond that.

Later adding that cuts in municipal aid across the state under Gov. Chris Christie (R), including a loss of $7 million in North Bergen’s budget, have dramatically hurt the economy, Lonegan responded that most NJ municipalities don’t have the luxury of receiving state aid.

As a result, those municipalities don’t have seasonal employees.

During the question and answer session with the audience, Siekerka said that non-profits cannot afford to pay their workers $15 an hour minimum wages, affecting health and human services in their communities.

Additionally, Alexander Roubian, who owns and operates a gluten-free/vegan food technology and manufacturing company in Hawthorne, became annoyed when the panel could not immediately answer why he should keep his business in New Jersey.

“Why would I stay in New Jersey as a long-term plan when I can go 45 minutes west, to Pennsylvania, and not have to worry about this bureaucracy?,” Roubian asked, going on to say that he estimates he could save $100,000 in two years on rate and labor expenses by moving.

“I’m a born and raised Jersey guy, I love my state, but what you guys are doing is forcing me not to hire New Jerseyans, to go hire Pennsylvanians and then I’m gonna go hire Mexicans? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Chiaravalloti, a teacher at St. Peter’s University where the event was held, wished Roubian great success that would help determine where his business goes in the future, further stating he hopes he stays in The Garden State.

“Look, I can’t give you an answer on why you should stay in New Jersey other than the fact you like your employees, okay, you’ve trained them already, you’ve invested in them, you enjoy the community that you’re operating in and you’re invested in your community: both not only economically, but personally.”

In August, Christie vetoed a bill that would have raised New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. The bill had the support of the state Senate and the Assembly.

The state minimum wage is set to increase slightly to $8.44 in 2017 (it is currently at $8.38).

The panel was hosted by Dr. Mary Kate Naatus, of the Saint Peter’s University School of Business, inside the university’s McIntyre Room.