Gov. Phil Murphy has refused to address the "disparate treatment" of AFSCME workers and the state's corrections officers, the lawsuit says. (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
AFSCME, the labor union representing thousands of state employees, is suing Gov. Phil Murphy and the state of New Jersey, alleging the state discriminated against its members by awarding pay raises to correctional officers but not workers represented by AFSCME.
The lawsuit alleges the state is treating both sets of workers differently because of AFSCME workers’ race and gender. Black women make up the largest group of AFSCME workers, while white men make up the largest group of correctional officers, according to the lawsuit.
The disparate treatment of the two groups is “especially troubling,” the lawsuit reads. It was filed in state Superior Court in Mercer County on Wednesday.
“As the governor of the state of New Jersey, Murphy exhibited deliberate indifference regarding the acts of discrimination visited upon employees represented by the AFSCME plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.
A Murphy spokeswoman declined to comment.
The pay raises for correctional officers were mandated by a bill Murphy signed into law in January, one that passed the Legislature unanimously. The law relaxed some civil service requirements for correctional officers and set minimum starting salaries for the officers at $48,000.
The state’s corrections commissioner sent a letter to the correctional officers’ union in March 2022 saying the pay raises were “related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the corrections officers’ working conditions,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit notes that AFSCME members work for the state Department of Health and at multiple state-run facilities for people with developmental disabilities, veterans homes, and psychiatric facilities that endured staff shortages, mandatory overtime, and health hazards as COVID-19 swept through the state.
“The conditions under which the correctional police officers worked during the COVID-19 pandemic are nearly identical to the conditions under which the AFSCME plaintiffs’ unit members worked during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawsuit said.
AFSCME — the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees of New Jersey, which represents more than 6,000 state workers — said the change to correctional officers’ salaries boosted their starting pay by 20% and led to across-the-board 8% pay hikes for other jail guards.
The lawsuit acknowledges that the salary increases for corrections officers were mandated by law but adds there’s nothing in the law preventing Murphy and the state from awarding its members similar raises.
“It is AFSCME’s position that the increases to the salaries of correctional police officers are well-deserved,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
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