TRENTON, N.J. — The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled local governments have to maintain step pay increases during lapses in contracts.

The court ruled in a decision Wednesday that Atlantic County and Bridgewater Township held unfair labor practices when they stopped paying step increases after contracts expired. According to the court, the expired contracts had “clear and explicit language” explaining guidelines for the salary grid.

Atlantic County and Bridgewater argued automatic increases couldn’t be negotiated for.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has also denied step increases for many state workers. The governor cited the Public Employment Relations Commission in their decision to freeze salaries.

Hetty Rosenstein, state director of the Communications Workers of America, says they now have the legal tools to receive pay increments from the administration.