ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Phil Murphy voiced his support for organized labor during a speech Wednesday morning at the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey Convention.
“I remain committed to protecting the rights of working people to come together and form a union,” Murphy said. “And I remain equally opposed to the misguided and disingenuous efforts of those trying to break up unions.”
Murphy, who said the state was made strong by union labor, received a standing ovation from the crowd of delegates and members at Tropicana Atlantic City. He spoke for just less than 15 minutes, touching on protecting firefighters’ pensions and health care and his proposed millionaire’s tax.
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Third District Vice President Ed Zebrowski said he thought Murphy’s message of public safety was well received, and he appreciated the governor’s “positive attitude” toward the organization.
Zebrowski, who represents firefighter unions in Brigantine, Pleasantville and Ocean City, among others in the southeastern portion of the state, said there has been an “attack on labor” for years, both at the state and national levels, but he’s seeing a change.
Last July, Murphy signed legislation that separated the pension system for firefighters and police from other public workers, giving unions control.
On Wednesday, Murphy called it a good idea turned into a good law, “protecting your retirements the smart way, and ensuring that you and your members can retire with dignity, and the dignity you earned across years of service to our state and our people.”
Murphy also talked about his plans for a millionaire’s tax, calling it the “fair and right way to invest in our communities and in their core values.”
“Our firefighters and EMS stand squarely among the heart of our middle class,” he said. “Like so many of our middle-class families, you shouldered an unfair burden during the prior administration.”
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Anton “Chuck” Brown, delegate for the Pleasantville Fire Department, said he appreciated Murphy’s vocal stance on the tax and called him a “people person.”
“It speaks volumes when you come down here,” he said. “Just getting that confirmation that ‘I’m here for you’ — You can’t beat that.”
Briefly during the speech, Murphy said he was fighting to reform the state’s business tax incentives, since too many historic buildings are empty across the state that could “pose a direct threat to the neighborhood and to first responders, should there be a fire.”
“I want to use our incentives to bring those buildings back to life so they can contribute to our economy and in the process, lift up our neighborhoods,” he said. “That’s good for all of us.”
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That struck a chord with Capt. Tom Higgins, the alternate delegate for Pleasantville, who explained the danger of responding to a fire in an empty home.
“You don’t know what you’re going into,” he said. “You could lose your life in a vacant building.”
Outside the conference room, Brown said it feels like Murphy is “in our corner.”
“He talks the talk,” Brown said. “I hope he walks the walk.”