Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to rankle State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) who questioned the Democratic governor’s recent move to exclude New Jersey state workers from updated rules that allow vaccinated employees to unmask in most New Jersey workplaces.
On May 26, Murphy initially issued Executive Order No. 242, which removed the mask requirement for employees who work in “indoor public spaces” such as retail stores and restaurants. The order excluded workplaces that are not generally open to the public such as offices and warehouses, indicating that employees of such places were to continue wearing masks, regardless of their vaccination status.
Lawmakers and employers raised concerns, calling the directive inconsistent. Murphy then announced another directive, allowing vaccinated workers in non-public workplaces to remove their masks if they are vaccinated. The order, though, excludes state government employees who must continue to wear masks, even if vaccinated.
Different Science for State Workers?
“Is the science somehow different for State employees?” Bucco asked in a May 26 press statement. “If the vaccine works, government workers should have the same protections as everyone else. You have to wonder if keeping more stringent measures for State offices is simply an excuse for Governor Murphy to keep walk-in unemployment centers closed or limit customer volume at the MVC.”
Bucco has been a vocal critic of Murphy’s handling of New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission locations, many of which have frequently been shuttered due to COVID-19 infections among MVC workers. The closures have upset motorists who have had difficulty renewing registrations and accessing other MVC services.
Bucco said in his release that MVC agencies have been operating at limited capacity since early July 2020. MVC agencies had been completely shuttered due to COVID-19 prior to July 2020. Bucco also noted that walk-in unemployment centers operated by the state have been closed since March 2020.
Unions Wary of CDC Guidance on Masks
Murphy initially garnered praise from unions and criticism from businesses and Republicans when he opted not to follow the lead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masking requirements. Organized labor had argued that the CDC was too quick to recommend easing mask requirements and that doing so would harm public health, particularly the health of front-line workers.
A number of states lifted mask mandates after CDC said in guidance that fully vaccinated people did not need to wear them indoors, except in certain settings, but Murphy waited a bit longer to lift mask requirements in the Garden State.
“Even when Governor Murphy fixes one mistake in his complex web of orders and directives, he immediately finds a way to make another,” added Bucco. “It’s hard to convince people to take his remaining executive orders seriously when they conflict with each other, science, and general common sense. He should take that as a sign that it’s time to do away with them altogether.”
Second Executive Order From Murphy
On May 26, Murphy issued Executive Order 243, which—in addition to addressing telework—permitted employers in indoor worksites that are closed to the public to allow employees who can verify that they are vaccinated to forego wearing a mask and forego social distancing. The order gave employers the flexibility to issue “more restrictive policies on masking and social distancing,” according to a press release from Murphy.
Moreover, the order said that employers “shall not restrict individuals from wearing masks and shall not penalize or retaliate against individuals who choose to wear a mask.”
“With all metrics continuing to trend in the right direction, I am happy to be able to take this additional step in the return to normalcy,” Murphy said. “This pandemic has been extremely disruptive for employers and employees alike and this new guidance will benefit both. A vaccinated employee is a safe employee and being able to forgo a mask at the office is just one of the many benefits to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.”