TRENTON, NJ -In a statement to the press over the weekend, NJ State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto declared the effort to put a $15 minimum wage on the ballot in 2017 dead. Though he and other Democratic lawmakers vowed back in August not to let the governor’s veto stand in the way of a “a fair and just livable wage,” he now says, “it makes sense to wait until after Christie finishes his second term before trying again.”
At the time, Prieto said Chris Christie’s veto was “disappointing, though not unexpected.” About New Jersey Democrats’ latest betrayal of working-class people, 15 Now NJ would say the same.
When we started organizing in New Jersey more than two years ago, Democrats had just completed a maneuver that aimed to head off the $15 movement by giving minimum wage workers a one dollar raise.
A series of additional theatrics has followed since then—from Speaker Prieto and Deputy Speaker Wisniewski’s disingenuous proposal in February to raise the minimum wage to $15 immediately, to Senate President Sweeney’s fake counter-offer to raise it by 2024 and the subsequent “compromise” announced in a self-congratulatory joint editorial by the Senate and Assembly leaders.
At every step, 15 Now NJ has insisted it is “absolutely crucial for us to organize, mobilize and apply maximum pressure to force our elected representatives to wage a meaningful fight.” This weekend’s news that Democratic Party leaders couldn’t muster enough support to put their own legislation on the 2017 ballot shows that our lack of faith in their sincerity was justified.
15 Now NJ is not an organization of professional lobbyists. We are working-class activists fighting for what we, our families, and our communities need. Melissa Tomlinson is a member of the Badass Teachers Association (BAT). Responding to this latest act of negligence by elected officials, she said, “Teachers are done being blamed for educational gaps that cannot be narrowed until the poverty levels in this state are addressed. Our families need a livable wage so that our students can come to school to learn.”
For Marisa Jimenez of United Students Against Sweatshops, this weekend’s news raises questions about what role Democrats will play in relation to the Trump administration. “Now that we are anticipating large-scale attacks on all workers with the incoming Trump presidency, it's shameful that Democrats have turned their back on their constituents [who] have worked tirelessly to demand a living wage,” she said. “Democrats missed the opportunity to stand in solidarity with working class New Jersey residents, in this important moment in history, and that is disturbing and disheartening.”
For 15 Now NJ, a living wage is not an abstract issue to be rescheduled for a more convenient time. In Seattle, our sister organization transformed $15 from a demand to a reality. We intend to do the same here in New Jersey. Early next year, we will re-launch our campaign on the basis of sustained evidence that neither big business party is serious about representing the working class. We will work tirelessly alongside our allies to build a movement capable of both withstanding attacks from the right and refusing to settle for false promises from Democrats. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”