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New Jersey state employees sue governor for discrimination

New Jersey state employees sue governor for discrimination

TRENTON, New Jersey – Saying Gov. Phil Murphy’s policies have widened the pay equity gap for women and people of color, the nearly 6,000 state employees represented by AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court over racial and gender-based discrimination.

AFSCME represents front-line workers in New Jersey’s veterans’ homes, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, Division of Children and Families and others.

“The governor’s failure to address these issues, whether intentional or not, has created an unfair environment of bias that leaves our members, who are overwhelmingly female and people of color, behind,” Ron McMullen, an employee at Anne Klein Forensic Center and president of AFSCME New Jersey and Local 2222, said at a news conference Wednesday.

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 the state cited was the fact that CPOs “appear for work, as true professionals, ready to ensure safety, security, and well-being for all,” despite the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shortages, mandatory overtime and weather-related events.

Essential workers providing critical services, often working on the front lines alongside CPOs, did not receive the same increases despite working under the same conditions.

“Like many state workers, AFSCME members have been on the front lines, working in very difficult conditions over the last 2½ years,” said Debbie Parks, an AFSCME vice president and associate director of AFSCME New Jersey. “We agree that the corrections officers deserve those pay increases, but those same conditions also exist for AFSCME members who work in state facilities.”

According to demographic data from the state, New Jersey’s CPOs are 82% male, with the largest group among them being white males at 43%. Meanwhile, AFSCME’s membership is 67% female and 82% minority, with black females making up the largest group at 47%. 

Steve Tully, executive director of AFSCME New Jersey, said the governor’s decision is puzzling.

“We don’t understand why the same governor, who recently signed an executive order to create 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,” he said. “These workers face the same circumstances that led to the CPO pay increases. Governor Murphy is leaving them behind.” 

Sandra Hebert is a senior human services technician and president of Local 3354, which represents Paramus Veterans Home employees.

“When management and the administration took months to get us the supplies and procedures we needed at the start of the pandemic, we still did our jobs,” she noted. “When there was no plan to mitigate COVID infections of residents or staff, we didn’t stay home. And when there wasn’t the necessary (personal protective equipment), we stood up and spoke out and still went to work.”

“Mr. Governor – I am essential,” added Hebert. “I am committed to the mission of my team. I am on the front lines. And so are the people I serve with. Treat me equally.”

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