What Murphy’s not saying about deal giving public workers raises (lots)
As the Garden State begins to grapple with the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown that has resulted in a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, Gov. Phil Murphy's administration has finalized a deal with the Communications Workers of America that has been overwhelmingly been ratified by its public sector workers.
According to Murphy, the agreement will save the state more than $100 million. It calls for CWA workers to take 12 furlough days over roughly the next month or so, but according to the union’s New Jersey website, members will be eligible to collect unemployment for 10 of those 12 day — and some of them will actually wind up getting more money than they normally collect while working, because of the federal unemployment enhancement.
The website also indicates the deal guarantees there will be no layoffs, even though the state may face dire economic circumstances over the next 18 months, and all CWA workers will still be eligible to receive their normal pay increases — although the pay hikes will be delayed until 2021.
When the agreement was first announced last week, Murphy was asked Monday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing whether he believed there should be a shared sacrifice by public sector workers moving forward — since more than a million private sector workers have lost their jobs over the past three months and filed for unemployment benefits, and many faced severe economic hardship because of his stay at home directive.
Murphy, who frequently states “we’re all in this together” was also asked if the “we” he refers to includes everybody, not just private sector employees.
He answered by saying we must get federal assistance, we must have the ability to borrow billions of dollars, and we must keep police, fire and EMS workers (as he has said on several other occasions) — but he did not address other classifications of workers, and he declined to discuss any aspects of the agreement because the CWA membership had not voted on it yet.
When the governor was asked if he would now share specifics of the deal that had been reached, he did not talk about shared sacrifice at all — only indicating he thought it would save the state more than $100 million.
"We have reached the best possible outcome for our state, for our workers and our taxpayers.”
Murphy was then asked if the savings achieved by the agreement would be worth the concession of agreeing to not lay off any workers through the end of next year, and he was asked about the wisdom of having a deal that stipulates the furloughs must be taken over the next four weeks, when many state departments and agencies, including the Motor Vehicle Commission, are in the midst of reopening.
He did not address any of these questions, but instead asked his lawyer Matt Platkin to respond.
"We worked very hard with the union to structure this agreement such that we could take advantage of the CARES Act supplemental unemployment benefits," Platkin said.
He also said as we’re going through some very complex furlough plans, “in light of the agreement, the operational impacts of this are not easy to manage, but obviously the departments are doing the best they can under the circumstances."
He added “we think this is a fair deal for the state and we think it’s a fair deal for the workers of the state who are also residents of the state overwhelmingly.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com