Senate to Vote on Paying State Workers for Shutdown

Steve Sweeney. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

The Senate will return to the state house next week to vote on paying state workers for time they missed during the government shutdown.

The Senate has scheduled a voting session for 10 a.m. next Thursday.  The bill, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney, Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) and Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset), will prevent workers from losing pay due to the shutdown, according to a news release.

The bill was not posted on the agenda as of Friday afternoon.

“State workers should not be penalized for the government closure that was completely out of their control,” Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said in a statement. “We know that hard-working public employees depend on their paychecks and we want to ensure they don’t see them cut as a result of the brief shutdown.  I’ve scheduled a voting session for next week because addressing this issue is a priority.”

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto wrote a letter to Gov. Chris Christie on Friday after the state told workers to apply for unemployment benefits to get compensated for the shutdown. A Department of Labor and Workforce Development notice said workers must apply for unemployment benefits by July 8 or they won’t be eligible to be compensated for the week of July 2.

In his letter, Prieto asked Christie to use his executive authority to pay employees for Monday. He said to qualify for partial unemployment benefits during the shutdown, an employee’s income for the week would have to fall below 72 percent of what they normally earn. Prieto said few workers would qualify, and added that state workers received full pay during the last shutdown in 2006.

“This is neither a fair nor practical way to compensate state government workers who were not responsible for the shutdown and were, as always, more than willing to work that day,” Prieto wrote. “The dedicated public servants that work on behalf of our state doing so many important jobs deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Employees were kept out of work through no fault of their own.  I believe it would be wrong to penalize them when they played no role in the circumstances that resulted in the shutdown.”

Tom Hester, a Prieto spokesman, said the speaker would wait for Christie’s response before considering other options.

A Christie spokesman declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss pending legislation.

After reaching a deal on a state budget Monday night to end a three-day shutdown, Christie said he would have to talk to the Legislature about back pay for state workers. The shutdown lasted from Saturday through Monday, but Christie noted most workers were only affected on Monday.

Lawmakers in both chambers had discussed voting on giving state employees back pay before going on break for the summer. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) urged Prieto in a letter Thursday to call a voting session to pass a bill providing a paid vacation day for roughly 30,000 workers who could not show up for duty Monday.

In a statement, Greenstein said state employees were caught in an unfortunate set of circumstances through no fault of their own.

“We cannot allow this to negatively impact the workers, who have dedicated their careers to public service, or their families,” Greenstein said. “We are acting quickly to make sure they are protected and that they receive full pay despite the brief closure.”

“Passing a state budget should not be a mad dash to the finish line and the public should not pay the price,” Bateman said in a statement. “The least we can do now is ensure that our hardworking state employees receive every dollar they have earned, and not a penny less.”