Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Star Ledger – The state Legislature on Thursday gave its blessing to a plan pushed by the state Senate president to partially furlough state and local government workers in New Jersey to avert the mass layoffs that may accompany a coronavirus-fueled economic crisis.

In a pair of remote sessions held Thursday, the state Senate and Assembly passed legislation creating an Employee Job-Sharing Furlough Protection Act for government and private employers to cut employees’ hours and pay while taking advantage of state and federal unemployment benefits to replace their lost wages.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has estimated furloughing a quarter of the 400,000-person public-sector workforce through the end of July 31 — when expanded federal unemployment benefits are poised to expire — could save state and local governments as much as $750 million.

The bill heads to Gov. Phil Murphy, who has said that he’s keeping an open mind but he’s concerned about meeting the demands on government during the pandemic.

“I think we’ve got to be very careful,” Murphy said during his daily coronavirus press briefing in Trenton last week.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, the biggest state worker union, didn’t take a position on the bill, but said “We need people on the job. We don’t need them furloughed. We need them on the job earning a paycheck.”

“Every day we delay costs us money. We have to do everything we can to save tax dollars now to avoid a bigger budget crisis later, and this program will save hundreds of millions of dollars,” state Sen. Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, said in a statement. “The federal government included this special furlough program in the CARES Act because it was better to keep people working part-time with full health benefits during the crisis than laying them off without health insurance and overburdening the unemployment system.”

Murphy’s state Treasury Department revealed on Wednesday it had lowered revenue projections by $10 billion through next year, including $2.8 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year and $7.3 billion in the next. Without a big influx of cash through borrowing or federal aid, the consequences for public workers are dire, he warned Thursday.

“Plan B, which we can’t fathom right now, is enormous cutting of services and head count from the very people that we need at the point of attack right now in the biggest health care crisis in the history of our state and country,” the governor said in his daily briefing Thursday.

Sweeney has said some nonessential state and local employees’ work hours and wages should be reduced to 40% — essentially, working two days out of five.

New Jersey has a preexisting job-sharing program that allows employers to reduce employee hours to stave off layoffs while allowing employees to tap the unemployment system to supplement their income. A provision of the federal CARES Act says the federal government will pick up the tab for job-sharing unemployment benefits, Sweeney’s office has said.

The proposal capitalizes on federal aid for unemployed workers that increases weekly unemployment benefits by $600 under the massive stimulus bill, called the CARES Act. With that additional unemployment compensation, many public workers would collect more on unemployment than while working, Sweeney has said.

For example, an employee making $30,000 would collect an extra $5,100 over three months while furloughed, while an employee making $50,000 would come out $3,300 ahead and someone with $70,000 in income would make an extra $1,008, according to Sweeney.

The temporary, part-time furlough would not affect employees’ pensions and they would continue to receive health benefits, Sweeney’s office said.

The Senate Majority Office estimated government employers would save $2,000 to $13,000 per employee.

The Assembly passed the bill unanimously, 80-0, while the Senate voted 36-1.

Lawmakers cautioned, however, that if the program is enacted public employees should not be able to skip ahead of out-of-work New Jersey workers who have already applied and are still waiting for benefits.

“I sat here today before the voting session and looked at how many open claims just my district office has, and it’s going to be really difficult for us to explain to the hundreds and hundreds of families in our district who have been patiently waiting, some for over six weeks … and let them know we’re furloughing state employees who could be jumping ahead of them on the line,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen.

Nearly 1.1 million workers have applied for unemployment benefits over the past eight weeks, but 725,000 are receiving payments.

District Offices

Gloucester County

Kingsway Commons
935 Kings Highway, Suite 400
West Deptford, NJ 08086
Phone: (856) 251-9801
Fax: (856) 251-9752


Salem/Cumberland Counties

The Finlaw Building
199 East Broadway, Suite G
Salem, NJ 08079
Phone: (856) 339-0808 or
             (856) 455-1011
Fax: (856) 339-9626