Under an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Oct. 20, new state contracts must include a clause mandating the COVID-19 vaccine or weekly testing for the virus.
The Wednesday order cannot affect existing state contracts, Murphy noted. But it allows “exercise of an option on an existing state contract to include a clause” with the requirement.
Murphy had no estimate on how many workers the order would affect, but suggested that it would climb to the thousands over time. “This will bring new contracted workers in line with the requirements set for all direct state employees,” Murphy said in his comments.
“We must ensure that everyone providing service to the people of New Jersey – whether they are direct or contracted employees – is being held to the same public health and safety standards.”
Under previous orders, state workers, as well as K-12 school employees and those working at public colleges and universities. were required by Oct. 18 to get the vaccine. While Murphy initially said that date would be when all 64,000 state employees would return to their offices, he later outlined a phased approach.
Several lawmakers criticized that move, complaining that New Jerseyans were counting on having those state workers back in the office for any number of public services. “I’m disappointed but not surprised that Governor Murphy failed to live up to his promise to reopen all of the state government services that have been closed since the start of the pandemic,” state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-40th District, said in a statement.
Murphy defended the new timeline, saying it would be the safest and most responsible path forward. “You’re seeing this being done in the private sector,” he said.
The governor said that the first offices where workers returned in-person where his own office, which has 108 employees, according to a 2019 report from the state Civil Service Commission.
The other state agencies where workers returned to the office, according to Murphy, were the Department of Children of Families which has over 6,800 staff according to the 2019 report; the Motor Vehicle Commission, which has over 2,400 staff; and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has more than 3,000 staff.
Murphy said state agencies with more than 2,500 staff will begin returning on Nov. 8, followed by agencies with between 500 and 2,500 employees beginning on Nov. 15, and agencies with less than 500 workers on Nov. 29.
Employees have yet to return to offices at the departments of health, corrections, human services, transportation, environmental protection and education, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and the state’s Board of Public Utilities.
“They’re doing it over a period of weeks, not months or years,” the governor added.
Several public employees are suing the state over the vaccine mandate, according to NJ.com, but Murphy has decline to comment on the legal challenge.
All workers at hospitals, long-term care centers, prisons, and other high-risk congregate settings were required by Sept. 7 to get the vaccine or submit to routine testing.
Other large employers and event organizers have begun requiring the vaccine, especially after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer inoculation, and as after agency approved booster shots for individuals who have received that shot. The FDA also seems prepared to approve the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna vaccine booster shots.
In September, President Joe Biden said that businesses with more than 100 employees would have to require their workers to get the vaccine. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is hashing out those rules, which according to state labor officials could affect 4,646 private worksites employing nearly 1.4 million people in New Jersey.
Nearly 6 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey have been fully vaccinated out of 9.2 million residents, according to data from the state Health Department.