AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration for racial and gender-based discrimination.
AFSCME represents approximately 6,000 front-line state employees in New Jersey’s veterans homes, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, Division of Children and Families and other agencies.
The lawsuit comes after the March 2022 decision by the governor to raise starting salaries for New Jersey correctional police officers (CPOs) by 20%, while also giving across the board increases of 8% on all steps to existing officers.
Among the reasons cited by Murphy for the increases was the fact that prison guards “appear for work, as true professionals, ready to ensure safety, security, and well-being for all,” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shortages, mandatory overtime and weather-related events.
Essential workers in critical state facilities, often working on the front lines alongside CPOs, did not receive the same increases despite working under the same conditions.
The biggest difference is that prison guards tend to be white men while the AFSCME union members are more likely to be black women.
“All state employees have worked almost three years under COVID-19,” said Sandra Hebert, president of the Paramus Veterans Home Employees. “We are front-line workers who deserve equal pay. We had to work with limited staff, and because of that, all our scheduled vacation time was canceled because of the shortage of staff. We could not use sick time. It affected all of us. Some of us are currently seeing therapists, just to deal with the trauma of pandemic working conditions. It was very stressful, we worked under very bad conditions with not enough PPE.”
At the facility where Herbert is employed at least one staff member died from COVID.
“We fully support the increases given to the state’s CPOs, they deserve it, but so do other staff who are in similar positions,” said Steve Tully, executive director of AFSCME New Jersey Council 63. “We have made every effort to discuss the pay disparity issue with the governor, but he has ignored some of the state’s most dedicated and hardest working employees.”
“They do a hard job and they show up every single day under incredibly difficult conditions,” said Tully.
“We don’t understand why the same governor, who says he supports women and people of color and created a wealth disparity task force to remedy long-standing inequities that affect black, Hispanic and Latino New Jerseyans, would refuse to agree to equal pay increases for state workers, who are primarily female and people of color,” said Tully. “These workers face the same circumstances that led to the CPO pay increases. Governor Murphy is leaving them behind.”
According to data supplied by the state, New Jersey’s CPOs are 82% male with the largest group among them being white males at 43%.
By comparison, AFSCME’s membership is 67% female and 82% minority, with black females making up the largest group at 47%.
“While using millions of dollars to cultivate an image as a liberal Democrat, Governor Murphy’s behavior reveals that he is a genuine racist and misogynist,” said Lisa McCormick.
“While using millions of dollars to cultivate an image as a liberal Democrat, the Wall Street millionaire has ignored rampant racial segregation in New Jersey public schools and allowed or even rewarded sexual abuse in his campaign, in state government and in the professional women’s soccer team he owns,” said McCormick.