Court allows PBA to submit briefs against Murphy’s vaccine and booster mandate

·3 min read
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

New Jersey courts are allowing the state’s largest police union to file arguments questioning the legality of Gov. Phil Murphy’s latest vaccine and booster mandate for corrections officers, as well as request a stay of the mandate.

Details: The Appellate Division of Superior Court on Tuesday notified lawyers for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association that they can file briefs to request a stay and challenge the legality of the mandate by Jan. 28. Oral arguments could begin Feb. 7 if the court decides to entertain arguments.

Context: Lawyers for the PBA, which represents thousands of state and county corrections officers across New Jersey, filed an application Monday requesting the court take applications to request a stay of the policy. The court’s response is the first step in a legal process the police union hopes will stop the mandate for corrections officers.

Murphy announced last week the state’s most stringent vaccine and booster requirement to date, which applies to workers in health care, “high-risk” congregate settings, long-term care and correctional facilities. The new mandate eliminates the test-out option that covered workers previously had, and includes penalties up to and including termination for non-compliance.

Under the mandate, corrections officers must get their first dose of the vaccine by Feb. 16, their second by March 30 and booster shots within three weeks of eligibility. Health care workers and other workers in “high-risk” congregate living settings not subject to the federal Covid-19 vaccine mandate are on the same timetable for vaccinations as corrections officers.

Corrections officers warn of an exodus in their ranks because of the mandate. In a letter to Acting Department of Corrections Commissioner Victoria L. Kuhn obtained by POLITICO, attorneys for PBA Local 105, which represents all state corrections officers, demanded the commissioner meet with the union to discuss contingency plans for staffing. According to the union, around a quarter of corrections officers are eligible for retirement, and many may retire early to avert vaccinations.

“Based on the foregoing, the Local is not requesting, but instead demanding, that we meet and confer over this issue,” reads the letter, which states that 60 percent of state corrections officers are unvaccinated. “Make no mistake about it — if this Executive Order goes into effect, this State will be faced with a Public Safety crisis of proportions that have never before been witnessed.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said they do not comment on pending litigation and that the department “is constantly and methodically evaluating its staffing plans and will secure resources as needed to ensure the safety and security of its facilities.”

Murphy’s office declined to comment.

What they’re saying: “We are pleased that we will have the opportunity to fully brief these incredibly important legal issues,” Frank M. Crivelli, an attorney representing the PBA, said in a statement. “When one reads and truly thinks about what’s in this Executive Order, it’s quickly discernable that this matter is not just about the virus and vaccines. There is a lot more to it to include the scope of the Governor’s Executive Power and the question of the State’s ability to intrude into one’s personal medical decision-making abilities.”

What’s next: The state must file opposition papers by Feb. 2 and the PBA may reply to the state’s brief by Feb. 4.

Read the court’s response to the application here and the letter to DOC here.