TRADES & UNION DIGEST > Health & Education > Murphy rejects bill aiming to save highway workers’ lives.

Murphy rejects bill aiming to save highway workers’ lives.

4 months ago
Chris Ferrari
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He says there’s a better way to do it. Sweeney looking at possible override attempt.

Credit: Brent Johnson – New Jersey Advance Media – NJ.Com

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday vetoed legislation requiring safety measures be put in place to help prevent New Jersey highway maintenance workers from getting hurt on the job, saying that should be part of union negotiations instead.

The bill — which easily passed through the state Legislature in recent months — would require the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to set up protocols for employees doing roadside work, mostly to protect them during bad weather and at night.

But Murphy, a Democrat who frequently champions organized labor, wrote in his veto message that he believes collective bargaining between unions and the state is “the right forum” to address workers’ benefits and conditions.

He said this measure “circumvents that process” by requiring the Turnpike Authority — which oversees the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway — to establish work rules that are currently being negotiated with unions.

Murphy also said it would “set a precedent” that one side — either workers or management — could “seek legislation whenever it does not like the negotiation process or its results.”

“While the bill we are discussing today takes the union’s side, it is easy to imagine future legislation that would codify management’s preferences, especially in sectors where unions have been weakened due to decades of ideological attacks,” the governor added. “I consider it unwise and dangerous to start down a path where we subordinate collective bargaining to legislative politics.”

But leaders of the union that represents many of the state’s highway workers expressed dismay at Murphy’s veto.

“Disappointed would be an understatement,” Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, told NJ Advance Media.

“For some reason, this governor who has been a labor-friendly governor is vetoing safety legislation that would save workers lives and also protect the public,” Shearon added.

Sean McBride, president of the Local 196 branch of the IFPTE, agreed.

“If we have to start negotiating safety regulations, I don’t understand that,” McBride said.

Shearon added that the union will actively lobby the Democratic-controlled Legislature to “override this ridiculous veto.”

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he’d have to talk to the measure’s main sponsor, state Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, about whether he wants to pursue an override attempt.

“I’d look at it,” Sweeney told NJ Advance Media.

Two-thirds of each house of the Legislature — the state Senate and Assembly — would need to vote for an override for Murphy’s veto to be overturned.

The Senate passed the bill 38-0 and the Assembly 75-0, with one abstention.

The legislation was inspired by a 2017 accident in which a car struck a guide rail near Exit 117 on the Garden State Parkway and ran into a worker cutting grass on the ramp in the rain.

The woman’s leg was severely fractured and required multiple surgeries, causing her to miss work for nearly a year.

Among the safety policies the bill (S1246) would require the Turnpike Authority to establish are: banning workers from using power tools in bad weather for non-emergency jobs, placing warning signs in work zones, using portable light towers for night work, and requiring the use of gas-powered landscaping to be performed during the day.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.

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