ATLANTIC CITY – Governor Phil Murphy came to the seaside ruins of this once thriving international gaming mecca to play the role of ebullient labor lover, straddling inside an hour that public-private sector rift aggressively widened during the era of Governor Chris Christie and always percolating with shades of inter-organizational animosity.
This was the town ten years ago where, at an AFL-CIO conference, public sector members threatened to defrock Steve Sweeney, an ironworker and proud Building Trades guy, for unveiling a plan to overhaul public pensions and benefits. Then-Governor Jon Corine’s Any Given Sunday-style speech on the statehouse steps in defiance of Sweeney prompted scorn from his successor, Governor Chris Christie, who bemoaned the Democratic Governor’s strategic negotiating skills on behalf of the public good and got some grunts of approval in labor halls around New Jersey.
On that front at least, Sweeney and Christie agreed.
Even if he strenuously shuns all comparisons to his Democratic predecessor, fellow Goldman alum Corzine, Murphy on this point – his public sector labor alliance – bears a strong resemblance.
But Murphy’s all labor, all the time, he said today, as he regaled both groups.
Murphy landed at the morning Building Trades conference at the Hard Rock to stand among the suspender-wearing multitude of mostly white males, alongside fierce Sweeney ally Bill Mullen, prez of the organization; then hustled over to the Golden Nugget – ironically formerly a Donald Trump holding – to party with rowdy, red-t-shirted Communications Workers of America reps and lionize Trenton Statehouse stalwart Hetty Rosenstein, NJ’s CWA director.
“We want to put New Jersey on a solid path to $15 minimum wage,” the Governor told the CWA-District 1 crowd.
The crowd went bonkers.
They acknowledged too with cheers his explication of the style differential between himself and Christie.
“The first thing we did was end the name calling,” Murphy said. “For too long you couldn’t trust the person occupying the governor’s office.”
Now the workers could, Murphy said.
Over at the Hard Rock, the Governor had received a more subdued labor reception.
This was Sweeney’s room, and as if to prove it, a banner of Building Trades support for the Senate President’s 2017 reelection bid, which he undertook while tire-treading the backyard-fight-picking New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), plastered over one entire side of the giant ballroom.
The crowd had gone nuts earlier for Sweeney, who spoke separately from the Governor, in addition to that other crowd favorite, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1).
During his Hard Rock appearance with the Building Trades, Murphy strolled in the vicinity of fellow
Monmouth County brand U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6). But he made sure to put his Department of Labor head, Robert Asaro-Angelo, on the case.
He was there, working the room.
Mullen presided. This was the umbrella outfit that watched John Ballantyne, boss of the Carpenters Union, go down suddenly amid whispers of his being too close to the Governor. Mullen, too, hasn’t always been publicly warm and fuzzy with the NJEA-backing and backed Murphy, having criticized his choice to head up the Economic Development Authority (EDA).
Today they all tucked away the knives.
They were cordial, civil.
But at the Nugget, Murphy went all out in support of the CWA.
Up on the dais, Rosenstein soaked the applause in her honor. She, of course, had roamed the halls during the budget fight trying to rouse lawmakers to back Murphy’s budget, and the Governor didn’t forget it.
Addressing reporters at the top of the escalator after he had spoken at both conferences, Murphy fielded an InsiderNJ question about his sense of the two labor groups’ co-existence and how he sees his own role in trying to keep them aligned.
“I had the honor to speak to the constructions trades and CWA-District 1, and I am proud to stand up inside of six months and address areas that matter to each of those groups,” he said. “Organized labor shares more in common than their differences, but there are differences.”
Public sector workers prioritize – for obvious reasons – public pension payments.
1099 fraud is existentially important to construction trades labor.
“The notion that this is a proud organized labor state is something we wear as a badge of honor,” Murphy said. “I’d like to be a guy who can continue to go into both rooms and list not nice words but actions moving the needle forward for our enlightened interests as a state.”
Then he addressed his comment to the CWA about his advocacy for a $15 minimum wage.
He pulled Sweeney- and Speaker Craig Coughlin – in to the answer.
“We’ve had conversations at the leadership level – both among the principals and our teams – and we’re all pretty committed,” the Governor said.
He listed the issue among three at the top of his to-do list:
adult use of marijuana;
and $15 minimum wage
“These three things we’re all committed to get over the goal line sooner rather than later, and that means this year,” Murphy said.
The budget process upchucked some of the longer-standing dichotomies of state politics, tinged by the old pension overloads and the NJEA-Sweeney fight, and carried into the budget aftermath, as South Jersey chest-thumped the superiority of its inside game.
But even as Mullen’s bull-horned words from the eve of the 2017 election – “What the NJEA [a key Murphy labor backer] has done is shit” lingered, Ballantyne ‘s belly-up exit underscored the division, Murphy’s overjoyed reception by CWA workers chilled during the Christie years especially enlivened the Nugget, and the Sweeney-Murphy rivalry still bubbled in Trenton, the Governor, on the same day he stood in both camps, insisted on the support of legislative leadership for his emphatically pro-labor agenda.