Murphy OKs furloughs for N.J. public employees to avert layoffs

Posted May 21, 2020

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration on Thursday announced policy changes that would allow New Jersey government workers to take voluntary furloughs to avert layoffs as state tax collections plummet.

The governor, whose administration has lowered its revenue projections over this year and next by $10 billion, has warned of “historic” layoffs of public workers at all levels of government if the state does not borrow big sums or receive more aid from the federal government.

The state’s Civil Service Commission on Thursday evening said rules governing an existing voluntary furlough program have been relaxed to allow the state and local government employers to offer employees voluntary furloughs to avoid layoffs while maintaining their seniority and health benefits.

One such rule change suspends a restriction that employees may only take voluntary furloughs exceeding 30 days for educational purposes or to care for family, the commission said in a news release.

“We want to make sure that civil service employees experience as little economic loss as possible and that they are able to maintain the health benefits they need for themselves and their families during this difficult time,” Civil Service Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Webster Cobb said in a statement.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, the largest state workers union, said employees who are furloughed should be eligible for unemployment benefits if, in fact, the furlough is designed to mitigate layoffs.

The voluntary furlough program is different from a job-sharing plan pushed by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, to cut some public workers’ hours and pay while allowing state and federal unemployment benefits to supplement their income.

Sweeney’s proposal (A4132) got big support from the state Legislature last week.

Under the Senate president’s proposal, some nonessential state and local employees’ work hours and wages would be reduced to 40% — essentially, working two days out of five. Those employees would be eligible for state unemployment benefits, as well as the $600 weekly federal enhancement that would boost pay for many low- and middle-income public workers higher than their full-time wages, Sweeney has said.

Murphy’s state Treasury Department estimated it is facing a $2.8 billion shortfall this fiscal year and has lowered its projections for the next fiscal year by $7.3 billion. The combined estimated revenue loss is $10.1 billion.

The Democratic governor has frozen about $1 billion in discretionary spending and asked the federal government for billions of dollars in aid and state lawmakers to borrow from the Federal Reserve to shore up state finances.

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