NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses when you dine out, because their minimum hourly wage still lags far behind that of other workers.
Those who wait tables or sling drinks here in the Hub City might not surpass $5 per hour in wages for another three years, despite legislation intended to put more money in the pockets of the working poor passing earlier this year.
In a grand bargain that brought together the top Democratic Party politicians in Trenton, both houses of the state legislature finally adopted a bill that would raise the state's minimum wage to $15 over several years in a move that is already having a major impact on New Jersey's economy.
The legislation, which took effect when it was signed by Governor Phil Murphy on February 4, also modifies the categories of workers covered by the minimum, and splits off thousands of workers into other categories that don't get the raises as quickly.
Critics say the move creates an "underclass" of workers–who are more likely to be women and people of color–that will not see the same finanical benefits that the rest of the state will under the law.
For example, most minimum wage workers should see a raise on July 1, boosting them from $8.85 to $10 per hour. Meanwhile, farm workers, those whose employers are defined as "seasonal," and those who work at businesses with five employees or less, won't see any increase.
Next year, most minimum wage workers will get an extra dollar per hour, bringing the rate up to $11 per hour. Those excluded from the first raise will also see a boost next January, as their rates increase to $10.30.
While the minimum rate for most workers will finally reach the vaunted $15 per hour in January 2024, some of the excluded workers might not see $15 per hour until 2026, or even later.
For many farm workers, their minimum wage will remain at $10.30 per hour throughout 2020 and 2021, before three more raises bring the rate to $12.50.
But then, three public officials, including one to be appointed just for this purpose, will study the impact of the rate increases during the first half of 2024, and then decide whether or not to move forward with additional raises.
Tipped workers, mainly servers and bartenders in the state's restaurant industry, have traditionally been excluded from the state's minimum wage and they continue to have it worst of all the groups carved out in the new deal.
The gap between their minimum wage and the rate for most other workers will actually increase from $6.72 to $9.87 between now and January 2015 under the legislation.
Tipped workers making the minimum should have seen their modest $2.13 minimum rate hiked by fifty cents as of July 1, but their wages will still remain far behind most workers as the gap continues to widen.
In January 2020, the tipped worker minimum wage rate will increase to $3.13 per hour, then to $4.13 in 2021, and $5.13 in 2022.
In another important change, municipal and county governments are now required to follow the New Jersey minimum wage law, which did not apply to public entities prior to February 4.
New Brunswick Today has already identified 42 public employees working in Middlesex County's town governments for less than the minimum wage, and successfully pushed for them to receive retroactive raises.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.