Gov. Phil Murphy’s opposition to the North Bergen power plant has put him on the wrong side of a powerful labor leader, causing a heated argument between the two at a North Jersey political event on Tuesday night.
“I speak like a labor guy,” said Rick Sabato, the president of the Bergen County Building and Construction Trades Council who had been a Murphy supporter. “I didn’t pull any punches.”
Sabato says that the power plant would have meant thousands of jobs for his union members and was angry that Murphy cancelled the project so cavalierly.
“You can’t make up that many jobs on a $1.6 billion dollar project,” Sabato said. “It’s going to devastate the building trades. He has to look out for the middle class.”
The power plant was in the early planning stages and had not been approved on the New York side, so it was unclear how many jobs — if any at all — might have been at stake.
Several sources who witnessed the discussion from a distance said that Murphy and Sabato were both quite animated and clearly unhappy with each other. Murphy reportedly didn’t pull any punches either.
The union leader indicated that he’s not pleased with Murphy’s job performance so far.
“He hasn’t produced any jobs yet,” Sabato told the New Jersey Globe. “He’s not doing anything to put our people to work. He hasn’t been what I thought he would be.”
Asked if he would support Murphy for re-election in two years, Sabato didn’t preclude the option of endorsing the governor, but said he’s open to backing another candidate – even a Republican – if his union members would benefit from that.
“If you put thousands of guys out of work, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Sabato. “The Democratic Party sides with environmentalists more than building trades.”
Sabato said his only concern was protecting the 25,000 members of his union.
Murphy announced last that he had reached a point where he was “unequivocally against the project” — a move that effectively killed the plan.
According to Sabato, the union discussed the power plant with Murphy during the 2017 gubernatorial campaign and that he had no issue with it.
He said the governor told him he was wrong about a natural gas plant being consistent with his clean energy initiative.
“I guess in the last five years, natural gas became dirty gas,” Sabato said.