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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy still open to campaign staff union

By Nikita Biryukov, May 17 2021 3:50 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy still isn’t opposed to his campaign staff forming a union.

“I’ve never said no on the union front, I have to say, so I don’t have an updated answer for you,” he said at Monday’s virus briefing. “But I like the notion.”

Campaigns staff are known for working grueling hours in environments that are often tense. The governor has previously said he was open to staff on his campaign and at the Democratic Governors Association, where Murphy is the immediate past chairman, forming unions.

A union could prove a helpful step for Murphy, whose 2017 campaign has since faced accusations of a hostile work environment that included a claim from longtime Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky, who accused then Murphy campaign manager Brendan Gill of using a vulgar gendered word during an argument. Gill denies the accusation.

Julia Fahl, who was Murphy’s in-state finance director for the 2017 campaign, said Joe Kelly, the deputy campaign manager, threw a chair during a meeting.

The most noteworthy example of a potentially toxic culture emerged after Murphy had taken office. Katie Brennan, who later became the chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, accused Al Alvarez, who was charged with the campaign’s Muslim and Latino outreach, of sexually assaulting her in April 2017.

Brennan was not affiliated with the campaign at the time but later signed on as a volunteer. Her allegations against Alvarez spawned months of legislative hearings that drew less-than-favorable coverage of the administration’s handling of the accusation.

Though top members of the front office were told of the alleged assault, Alvarez did not leave his post until a reporter from the Wall Street Journal contacted him for comment about a story on Brennan’s allegations in October 2018.

The governor is promising change this time around.

“It’s the reason why Mollie Binotto is our campaign manager, because she’s done a great job — putting the politics of it aside — it’s got to be really important central nervous system as it relates to human resources, personnel, workplace behavior, etc.,” he said. “That’s really impressive, I have to say.”

His campaign has also brought on a human resources firm to hold inclusivity and workplace harassment trainings.

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