August 19, 2018 | ° F

Wage increase affects businesses, workers

Photo by Tian Li |

Briana Trafuoci, an employee at the restaurant Barndoore, earns above minimum wage for her work.

Recent wage increases are making a big difference in the lives of New Brunswick workers and doing little detriment to businesses, according to New Brunswick small business owners and wage increase advocates.

New Jersey residents voted to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 per hour and to automatically adjust the minimum wage over time in relation to the current cost of living during November’s general elections.

Craig Garcia, an organizer at New Labor, a non-profit community organization that promotes the education, advocacy and organization of low-wage workers, said the minimum wage increase is great, but it still is not a living wage.

“Causing anyone to have a minimum wage rate where, by rule, they have to incur some level of debt just to fulfill their basic needs,” Garcia said. “That’s a form of slavery.”

Photo: Tian Li

Briana Trafuoci is an employee at Barndoore on Easton Avenue in New Brunswick. Joseph Petracca, the owner, says all employees at the restaurant are paid above minimum wage.

Photo: Tian Li

Gapino Perez prepares food for the restaurant.

If works do not receive enough money to meet their basic needs, he said they are getting less money than they need to live, which means they are being forced to incur debt.

“To me, that sounds like holding people back in a modern day form of slavery,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he did not want to overextend or exaggerate the idea, but people having to incur debt to live did not seem fair to him. He said it is unfair that society provides social services when employers could pay an honest wage rate.

“Although it is nice to see the increase, you cannot support a family on those wages,” he said. “I know many people that try to do that, so it gets quite difficult.”

But Garcia said there are some good things about the minimum wage increase. For example, the minimum wage has indexing that adjusts each year to inflation.

“I look forward to seeing it increase every year with inflation,” he said. “That was certainly the hallmark of this minimum wage increase.”

Garcia said policymakers should increase the minimum wage to a level where no one has to live with debt. That does not mean someone who wastes their money on things they do not need, but someone who wants to provide for the basic health and needs of their family without incurring any debt.

Even with the increase, many workers are still making what is considered below-poverty wages, he said. But since they were already making poverty wages before the increase, they are using the new money for their daily needs.

“That dollar increase means a lot more that they can provide for their family,” he said. “But even more that they can contribute to the local economy.”

He said workers could use that money to buy healthier food for their family and clothing for their children, pay for doctor appointments and generally provide more for their families.

“More money in their pockets, more money for their family, the more resources they will have, but it will also be positive to the local economy,” Garcia said. “They will be able to spend that money and circulate it at a time when more money in the economy is definitely something that we need.”

Garcia said a wage increase would raise the amount of money circulated into local businesses, which will in turn increase employment opportunities.

Joseph Petracca, owner of Barndoore, a restaurant on Easton Avenue, said he feels the minimum wage increase is good.

Barndoore does not pay their employees just the bare minimum wage, Petracca said. They pay every employee above minimum wage.

“We feel that if they work hard, they deserve their wages,” he said.

Because Barndoore pays all of its employees above the minimum wage, the minimum wage increase has not affected them, he said.

Petracca said he does not know of any other local business in New Brunswick that has been greatly affected either.

“But in all honesty, paying someone an extra 75 cents or a dollar is not going to break your business,” he said. “If your business is going to be bad, it’s going to be bad no matter what.”

The minimum wage increase was necessary, said Amanda Leroux, manager of Sanctuary, a restaurant located on Easton Avenue.

“The cost of living has gone up incredibly,” Leroux said. “It is not the same as it was 10 years ago. It had to be done.”

She said she has not noticed a change in her business or employees since the minimum wage increase.

“We try to keep it pretty friendly around here,” she said.

Jimmy’s Grill & Specialties, located on Easton Avenue, is a family business owned by Jimmy Kassouf and his brother.

Kassouf said their family has noticed a change in business but not because of the minimum wage increase.

“We are a family business, so we mostly cover everything ourselves,” he said. “We don’t have that many employees.”

It is the extra expenses of owning a business that are affecting their business, Kassouf said.

“There are too many expenses, he said. “Expenses like insurance and liabilities.”

Business is not what it used to be — it is kind of slow, Kassouf said. He has seen this especially in his other business, Jimmy’s Food Truck.

He said he used to have employees, but ever since the grease trucks were forced to move from their original location, the trucks have become a one-man operation.

“Life is expensive,” he said.

By Danielle Gonzalez

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