Murphy Silent on Terms, Cost of Contract With State Workers

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -

A labor union representing about 35,000 New Jersey state workers have reached a contract with the state including a pair of 2 percent raises, but the Murphy administration isn’t yet discussing any of the terms of the deal or what the agreement will cost the state.

The only information about the April 4 deal so far has come from the Communication Workers of America in New Jersey, which last week posted some details online of their tentative 2015-2019 agreement.

Besides the wage hikes, the deal with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy allows workers to recoup step increases that former Republican Gov. Chris Christie discontinued.

It also would spare workers’ retroactive increases in health insurance premiums, the union said. Those costs went up as part of Gov. Christie’s 2011 landmark pension overhaul.

“We achieved our goals,” the union said in a statement.

The Murphy administration has declined to comment on what is in the contract and its cost until after workers approve the deal, said Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan on Monday.

Gov. Murphy took office this year with help from organized labor, including the CWA. The union contributed $275,000 to a political action committee that spent money on ads attacking his GOP rival, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, as well as nearly $500,000 to county Democratic Party organizations that traditionally help get out the vote.

The previous contract expired under Gov. Christie, who famously clashed with organized labor and pushed public workers for givebacks as a way to shore up the state’s underfunded pension system.

Gov. Murphy has promised a new, friendlier posture toward labor in the state and has called for an end to “bluster” and name calling.

“We will rebuild this state on the shoulders of our union brothers and sisters,” he told lawmakers in his budget address this year.

Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, who sits on the budget committee, said he’s most concerned that he has not heard the governor talk about broader health benefit reforms.

“The red flag is not the terms of the agreement,” he said. “The red flag is the dog that didn’t bark.”

Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo, who chairs the budget committee, said he’s unsure what the cost estimates are but assumes the administration has investigated that. He said that the 2 percent raises are in line with what most towns and cities have been giving to their workers.

“I think that’s reasonable,” he said.

Gov. Murphy’s $37.4 billion fiscal year 2019 budget calls for setting aside more than $63 million for salary increases for state workers, most of whom are represented by unions. It’s unclear whether that amount reflects the administration’s assumption that a deal would be reached with the CWA. A Treasury spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking clarity.

Gov. Murphy’s spending proposal for salary increases is actually less than what Gov. Christie sought for the current fiscal year budget, which called for more than $85 million for salary increases.

Rebecca Kolins Givan, an associate professor at Rutgers who specializes in labor, said it’s not unusual for government to wait until a contract is ratified before opening up about the cost.

Negotiations on a new contract are set to start next month, since the tentative deal would end the middle of next year.

The union-covered workers perform a variety of services for the state, including working at executive departments that oversee state programs.