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Elizabeth H.S. Students Lead Campaign to Support Teens Inclusion in $15 Minimum Wage Bill


Students took action to influence final draft of legislation; attend Gov. Murphy’s bill signing at The Snyder Academy

Elizabeth, N.J., February 8, 2019 – High School students from several of Elizabeth Public Schools’ seven secondary education academies participated in the democratic process by actively campaigning to include teens in the $15 minimum wage legislation that Governor Phil Murphy signed into law in Elizabeth on Monday.

Make the Road New Jersey, an organization founded in 2014 to build the power of immigrant and working class communities in New Jersey to achieve dignity and justice through community organizing, legal and support services, transformative education and policy innovation took action to support the bill.

Several high school students from Elizabeth Public Schools, through the organization’s Youth Power Project, used their voices to campaign and convince legislators that teens have vested interest in the minimum wage hike.

The students were invited to the bill signing, held at The Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown, whose mission is to serve the people of Elizabeth and New Jersey as a vibrant center for culture, education, history and economic and social advancement. The venue is home to Make the Road New Jersey.

Alexander Hamilton Preparatory Academy senior Giovana Castaneda, the Make the Road New Jersey youth leader who lead the campaign charge, opened the bill signing event by leading the audience in a “power of the people” chant and welcoming Gov. Murphy, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

“No family in New Jersey can live on our current minimum wage,” said Castaneda. “As a teen worker who fought hard with young people across the state not to be left behind, I am proud that teen workers are included in the minimum wage hike. Our work has value and contributes to our families' income and allows us to save for college. "

Students Jose Analco, Jesus Hernandez, Genessey Jimenez, and Alejandro Rodriguez-Buseman of Hamilton Preparatory Academy; Jefferson-Bellatrice Lavendes and Johana Chacon of J. Christian Bollwage Finance Academy; and Edwin Amaya, Bridget Barragan, Nathaniel Cordero, Fiona Joseph, Rudy Joseph, Xenia Rivas, Natalie Roman, and Angie Ruiz of Elizabeth High School – Frank J. Cicarell Academy were also key contributors in advocating for the $15 minimum wage legislation.

Among their contributions was an article written by Ruiz that was featured in in which she detailed the importance of raising the minimum wage and how it affects New Jersey working families. She also helped to make sure that New Jersey teens would be included in the minimum wage raise.

“I’m not the only young person in New Jersey who is working to help put food on their family's table. Teens from working class families contribute on average 18 percent of family income. For families of color, teens’ wages comprise even more of our household income, according to a study from the National Employment Law Project,” Ruiz wrote in the article.

“That’s why I just don’t understand when legislators want to carve out teen workers from the minimum wage. They say we are working to pay for movie tickets or buy clothes at the mall. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The bill signed by Gov. Murphy will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. New Jersey teens under 18, who were once likely to be excluded from the wage hike, are now scheduled to also reach the $15 hourly wage in 2024.

“Providing our students with an excellent, comprehensive education includes equipping our students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed both in college and career opportunities as well as life circumstances,” stated Elizabeth Public Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer. “The initiative taken by these students and the courage they showed in using their voice to persuade government officials that they were deserving of being included in the minimum wage increase is very inspiring.”

“I am so proud of our students for taking such an active role throughout the process in which our elected leaders shaped the $15 minimum wage bill that Governor Murphy just signed into law,” said Elizabeth Board of Education President Stephanie Goncalves. “Many of our students help their families to make ends meet by working a job. Their efforts in effecting change were vital to ensuring that teens of working class families would be heard and supported through this wage increase bill instead of potentially being left behind as initially expected.”