More than half of N.J. corrections workers remain unvaccinated after mandate deadline
Union officials are sounding the alarm as the state, like many, grapples with a staffing shortage
By Sarah Sinning
TRENTON, N.J. — Thousands of correctional workers in New Jersey risk losing their jobs after failing to meet Governor Phil Murphy's Wednesday night vaccine mandate deadline, The New Jersey Monitor reports.
About 43% of the roughly 7,280 civilian and uniformed staff at NJDOC had received a COVID-19 vaccine as of yesterday afternoon, said Liz Velez, the department’s communications director.
The mandate also applies to county correctional facilities.
The state Supreme Court failed to block the mandate Monday night after the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association sued, calling the governor's amended requirement governmental overreach and warning it would lead to a critical loss of correctional staff.
Until last month, workers in healthcare centers, nursing homes, correctional facilities and other congregate settings could avoid getting vaccinated if they received regular tests. Gov. Murphy dropped the testing option from his executive order as the omicron wave raged in the state, saying that his administration was "no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues and ... those who are their responsibility in danger of COVID."
Employees were required to show proof of at least one vaccine dose by yesterday, with March 30 being the deadline for full compliance, including boosters for those who are eligible.
“For those members that showed up since March of 2020 when the rest of the world was on Zoom, showed up to the prisons, locked themselves behind bars 10 or 11 months before a vaccine was even available to anybody – seems like at midnight tonight, many are going to be tossed out with the bathwater,” said Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association.
Staff who submitted exemption requests by midnight Wednesday will not be suspended while their applications are processed, Velez said.
Everyone else "will be given notice of non-compliance, with three days from the date of the notice to comply," she said. Those who still don't comply will be suspended without pay following a disciplinary hearing while they await the conclusion of termination proceedings.
Union officials, however, are sounding the alarm about pushing out any staff amid an ongoing shortage.
“A lot of people don’t realize the state was losing 15 correctional police officers a pay period long before this mandate was signed,” Colligan said. “This is people just literally walking away from the job because they don’t want to do it anymore. I think we’re losing sight of that, too. We don’t exactly have a long line of applicants waiting to jump into their spots.”