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State Minimum Wage

New Jersey agriculture is heavily concentrated in the production of fruit and vegetable crops meant for fresh-market sale, as well as nursery, greenhouse and floriculture stock; and

WHEREAS, these sectors, as well as others including equine and agri-tourism, are labor-intensive operations, as the products being produced or experiences being offered rely upon aesthetic appeal to the consumer as much as, or more than, any other attribute; and

WHEREAS, this need for excellent physical appearance requires the hand-picking and/or hand-tending of these agricultural products and experiences; and

WHEREAS, most New Jersey farms are family-owned operations, in which there are not enough family members to provide all the needed labor; and

WHEREAS, this creates the need for the hiring of outside labor, much of which requires some knowledge and experience in working on a farm; and

WHEREAS, farm labor wages in New Jersey often already exceed the minimum wage due to competition for that labor from other industries, such as construction, landscaping and food-service; and

WHEREAS, an increase in the minimum wage would result in a “ratchet effect” of all other higher levels of pay on a given farm in order to maintain incentives to “move up” in that farm’s labor structure; and

WHEREAS, many produce-farm operators pay a “piece-rate,” in which workers are paid based on the amount of fruits or vegetables they pick and, during peak harvest, good workers can make significantly more than the minimum wage under this piece-rate system; but by contrast, the farm operator must pay at least the minimum wage for those workers who pick less, or during times when there are not enough crops to be picked, to have the piece-rate wage be at least equal to the minimum wage; and

WHEREAS, the New Jersey Legislature passed bills (A-2162/S-3) that would increase New Jersey’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $8.50 per hour, plus an annual increase tied to the Consumer Price Index, and these bills were conditionally vetoed by the Governor, who substituted an alternative increase in the minimum wage from that which passed the Legislature;. and

WHEREAS, legislative leaders have made it clear they will pursue a constitutional amendment on the November 2013 ballot due to the Governor’s conditional veto; and

WHEREAS, the $8.50 minimum wage is $1.25 more than the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) paid by businesses in other states that have not adopted minimum wages higher than the federal minimum; and

WHEREAS, this juxtaposition of higher labor costs in New Jersey with lower costs for produce coming from surrounding states would put New Jersey agriculture at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding states whose farmers are paying a lower minimum wage, since those out-of-state farmers will be able to undercut New Jersey farmers on prices for their similar products; and

WHEREAS, New Jersey farmers who hire outside labor also frequently provide those employees with lodging, meals and the costs of traveling to New Jersey from other parts of the United States or from foreign countries.

 NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the delegates to the 98th State Agricultural Convention, assembled in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on February 6-7, 2013, oppose any increase in the state minimum wage that puts New Jersey agricultural operators at a competitive disadvantage when compared to agricultural businesses in other states.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we respectfully urge the Legislature to revisit the issue of the state’s minimum wage as it relates to agriculture, with due consideration to the marked differences in how farm labor is compensated (including housing, meals and travel costs) versus labor in other industries, both in New Jersey and in other states, and with an eye toward the creation of a separate agricultural minimum wage.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the State Board of Agriculture and the Secretary of Agriculture should work in conjunction with the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to develop support within the Administration for a separate agricultural minimum wage.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we oppose using the route of a constitutional amendment to arrive at a new state minimum wage.