February 4, 2014
By Marc Bussanich
Jersey City, NJ—President Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he’d sign executive orders in order to raise the minimum wage and improve opportunity for working Americans. His labor secretary, Thomas Perez, met with minimum wage workers here to listen to their economic struggles. Watch Video Interviews
Mr. Perez was joined by New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, and said he came to Jersey City not only to talk about the minimum wage, but also discuss other matters of great importance to the middle class.
“The President's agenda is about growing a prosperous middle class. He outlined an opportunity agenda in pretty clear and concrete terms last week,” said Perez. “It’s an agenda to equip every child with an education they need to get a good job, to make sure we reward work with fair wages, give people a chance to learn new skills, ensure we equip people with a secure retirement and ensure access to affordable health care.”
Demetrius DiBase, who works as a baggage handler at Newark Airport and has three children, told Perez that he was grateful for the $1 dollar increase he received when New Jersey voters voted for an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 in November, but that he needs at least $10.10 an hour to support his family.
“Each day is a struggle,” he said. “Because of my job, I’ve developed a spinal injury that is expensive to treat.”
The executive director of the Port Authority, Pat Foye, recently sent letters to the major airlines demanding that workers making $9 an hour receive an immediate $1-per-hour increase, covering about 8,000 workers at JFK and LaGuardia airports.
But New Jersey’s Governor Christ Christie has refused to issue an order for airlines at Newark Airport to increase wages by $1 an hour.
In an interview, DiBase said he hopes Governor Christie raises wages for about 4,000 workers at Newark.
“When I heard that Governor Christie was against the wage, it was a shock. I hope he reconsiders,” said DiBase.
Another Newark airport worker, Derick Swaby, said it was important to convey to the labor secretary during the roundtable the need to raise the national minimum wage.
His reaction was the same as Mr. DiBase’s when he learned that Governor Christie hadn’t agreed to a wage increase for airport workers.
“I’m shocked and disappointed. We do the same work as workers at LaGuardia and JFK. I hope he changes his mind,” said Swaby.
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