TRENTON, N.J. – Three state lawmakers slammed a bill creating special benefits for employees at Newark Liberty International Airport and the adjacent train station during a March 25 Assembly voting session.
The bill (S989), which the Democrats call the “Healthy Terminals Act,” sets a prevailing wage schedule for any employee, including those from private companies, who spends at least half their workweek at the airport or train station. It also requires employers to pay a health care supplement of $4.54 an hour on top of the minimum wage. All workers would also receive two weeks paid vacation after one year of service, three weeks after five years, four after 15, and five weeks after 25 years, and 11 paid holidays.
“This bill is not aimed at helping workers at Newark airport get health care. This bill is giving them a litany of different privileges and benefits that are not available to everybody else, just because one particular group has got the ear of the majority party,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris). “This is a small business killing bill and this is the tip of the hat to what we can expect the majority party can do to our small businesses in the future.”
Roughly 12,400 workers, many of whom work for subcontracted companies, would benefit from the bill. This is the first time such mandates would be imposed on New Jersey’s private businesses outside the construction industry.
Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce questioned why the bill does not distinguish between full-time and part-time employees when every other employer in the state currently offers workers benefits based on their hours. This bill, she says, treats part-time employees at the airport or train station differently than anywhere else in New Jersey.
“Individuals that work part-time in your office do not get what you are going to allow people at the airport to get. Am I correct?” asked DeCroce (R-Morris) of the bill’s sponsor Annette Quijano (D-Union). Quijano did not reply.
“I’m just trying to point something out to be fair and equitable to everybody, and that we just don’t pick certain groups that we help,” said DeCroce.
Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger warned the bill could end up hurting the very employees it intends to help and noted the spread of automation in the industry, including kiosks to print boarding passes and driverless monorails.
“It was absolutely gut wrenching and very heartfelt,” Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) said in reference to the testimony on the bill during a Labor Committee hearing. “But there is a reality, when you do this and you increase the cost of labor beyond the threshold of what is appropriate, you end up costing jobs. We run the risk, when you increase the labor costs, of actually eliminating the jobs of the very people that we heard from.”
The Port Authority already has a minimum wage schedule in place that is higher than the rest of New Jersey. In 2018, JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports adopted a policy that raised the minimum wage for their workers to $17 in 2021, $18 in 2022 and $19 in 2023.
Both houses passed the bill with a party-line vote and sent it to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
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