An aide to Gov. Phil Murphy this week ordered higher education officials to talk to the state director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) before making decisions on layoffs or furloughs related to the coronavirus.
“Any discussions regarding reductions in force, furloughs or any other actions during this pandemic, must include Hetty Rosenstein,” wrote Yvonne D. Catley, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations in an April 29 email to human resources executives at 9 state colleges and universities. “Please contact our office prior to discussions and/or submissions.”
All state schools remain closed during Murphy’s shelter-in-place order to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
Catley’s email, was a follow-up to one she sent the same group last Friday evening instructing them to talk to the governor’s office before making any major personnel decisions connected to COVID-19.
“If any C/U (college/university) is contemplating any reductions in force, furloughs or any other actions during this pandemic, please contact our office prior to any submissions,” Catley wrote.
The administration backed up Catley on her order.
“The administration believes that labor deserves to be at the table in these conversations, and in some cases, it may be legally required,” a senior Murphy administration official told the New Jersey Globe.
In a subsequent email Catley sent late Friday after declining comment to the Globe, she refined the parameters of her earlier instructions.
“I am assuming you knew this, but just to clarify the below email, the discussion would only include Ms. Rosenstein if the action pertains to CWA members,” she said.
Catley’s three emails were obtained by the Globe.
A Republican member of the Assembly Higher Education Committee pushed back a bit on the idea of including Rosenstein as they consider possible layoffs and furloughs.
“While it is valuable to keep all parties in the loop when it comes to personnel decisions, it should be left up to the university administration to have discussions about the institution’s financial condition internally at first if deemed necessary,” said Assemblyman Gerald Scharfenberger (R-Middletown).
The CWA has established a close partnership with Murphy, putting the powerful state employees union in a dramatically more influential position than it was during the eight years Republican Chris Christie served as governor.
The union endorsed Murphy seven months before the 2017 gubernatorial primary.
Less than four months after taking office, Murphy agreed to a new contract with the CWA that gave about 35,000 state workers raises and retroactive bonuses.
“This contract finally closes the book on the Christie Administration,” Rosenstein said at the time. “(The) CWA was unwilling to permit Chris Christie to flout the law and destroy collective bargaining. We held our ground and are heartened that the terrible Christie chapter of New Jersey history is now over. Our members were very supportive of CWA’s commitment to hold out. And we are ecstatic that they’ve overwhelmingly ratified this agreement.”
New Direction New Jersey, a 501(c)4 group run by three of Murphy’s political advisors to advance the governor’s political agenda, received $560,000 from the CWA as of last fall, according to contributions released by the group.