TRENTON – A public worker union announced Wednesday that it is suing Gov. Phil Murphy in state court, alleging racial and gender discrimination for not providing its members the same raises granted by law to state correctional police officers.

The lawsuit was filed by AFSCME New Jersey Council 63, which represents around 6,000 state employees, including frontline workers in New Jersey’s veterans’ homes, psychiatric hospitals, developmental centers, Department of Children and Families and others.

The union says its members faced the same conditions and dangers during the COVID pandemic and therefore deserve the same raises as prison guards, whose salaries were boosted in March following the enactment of a law in January that sets their minimum yearly salary at $48,000.

“We fully support the increases given to the state’s CPOs,” said Steve Tully, executive director f AFSCME New Jersey Council 63. “They deserve it, but so do other staff who are in similar positions.”

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Tully said Murphy “has ignored some of the state’s most dedicated and hardest working employees.”

The lawsuit says the disparate treatment of the two unions will widen racial and gender pay gaps, as corrections officers are 82% male, including 43% who are white males, while AFSCME’s membership is 67% female and 82% minority, including 47% who are Black females.

“We are front-line workers who deserve equal pay,” said Sandra Hebert, president of the Paramus Veterans Home Employees. “We had to work with limited staff, and because of that, all our scheduled vacation time was canceled because of the shortage of staff. We could not use sick time.

“It affected all of us,” she said. “Some of us are currently seeing therapists, just to deal with the trauma of pandemic working conditions. It was very stressful, we worked under very bad conditions with not enough PPE. At my facility, we even lost a fellow staff member to COVID.”

Murphy’s office declined to comment, citing its policy regarding pending litigation.

Starting salaries for corrections officers were raised by 20%. The state also provided 8% increases to all other steps on the salary scale for other officers.

A bill unanimously approved by the Legislature and signed by Murphy in January raised the starting salary for correctional police officers to $48,000 and directed that salary adjustments also be made to the remaining steps on the pay scale as well.

That salary increase was added to the bill through an amendment four days before it passed, in the windup of the two-year legislative session.

The law appropriated $10.3 million to pay for the salary increases.

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