New Jersey’s growing number of temporary workers could get basic employee rights — including knowing where they’ll work each day and how much they’ll be paid — under sweeping new legislation now up to Gov. Phil Murphy.
Union activists have been fighting for years for a ‘bill of rights for temporary workers’, which they say was inspired in part by NJ Advance Media’s “Invisible Workforce” series published on NJ.com and in The Star-Ledger and affiliated newspapers in 2016.
The investigation, which was released in partnership with Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting in English and Spanish, found that many low-paid temporary workers were exploited and abused by agencies sending them to work in New York warehouses and factories. Jersey for assignments that could last days, weeks or even years. Many temps were recent immigrants or workers living illegally in the United States who feared speaking out about unsafe working conditions, missing paychecks and other mistreatment, the survey found.
The legislation would give New Jersey’s roughly 127,000 temp workers employed by at least 100 temp agencies the right to basic information in English and their native language about where they will work, the rate of pay, their schedule , the type of work they will do. and how much sick time they can get.
The new law would eliminate many of the fees that temp agencies deduct from workers’ paychecks, including mandatory fees for vans that take temps to their job sites each day. Agencies would also be prohibited from preventing temporary workers from being hired for permanent jobs at the companies to which they are assigned.
The legislation also includes new anti-retaliation rights and equal pay for equal work that could protect workers who report being underpaid or mistreated.
Before the bill passed, agency worker Diana Gaitan said the legislation was intended to respect agency workers as human beings.
“It means not being packed like sardines into a temp agency van and having to pay weekly for that ‘privilege.’ It means donating earned sick days that we accrue according to New Jersey law. This means not retaliating against us for speaking out about unsafe workplaces and abuses like wage theft,” Gaitan, a member of advocacy group New Labour, said in a statement.
Because of their circumstances, temporary workers are often vulnerable to abuse, said Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, one of the sponsors of the legislation.
“Many temporary workers are people of color or first-generation Americans who work hard to support themselves and their families,” Cryan said after the legislation was approved by the Senate Labor Committee earlier. This year. “They often feel they have no recourse if they are mistreated. This bill will help secure their rights and ensure they have the information they need to protect themselves.
But some business leaders are urging Murphy not to sign the legislation.
A provision in the bill that says temporary workers should receive the same pay and benefits as full-time company workers doing the same work is “unenforceable,” said Alexis Bailey, director of government affairs at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which represents employers in the state.
“Benefits can encompass a wide range of offerings such as health insurance, 401(k) matches, life insurance policies and other unique features of compensation programs,” Bailey said in a statement. . “Because temporary workers are not employees of third-party companies, they cannot be directly enrolled in the various types of benefit plans that may be provided to the permanent workforce of a third-party company. .”
Another piece of legislation could open employers to costly class action lawsuits from temps and drive up the cost of doing business in New Jersey, critics said.
Immigration and labor groups lobbied for a “temporary worker bill of rights” for years in New Jersey, but the proposed legislation never had enough support to become law.
When the bill was reintroduced during the current session, supporters rallied in Trenton and pointed out that temporary workers had helped sustain New Jersey’s economy during the pandemic by staffing the warehouses and factories while many other workers stayed at home.
The current version of the legislation, A-1474/S-511, was approved by the Assembly in June with a vote of 46 to 29. It was also approved by the State Senate in June, but in a In a rare mistake, the Senate voted on the wrong version of the temporary worker bill on a day when hundreds of bills were being considered before the Legislature’s summer recess.
The state Senate had to redo the vote earlier this week in an unusual voting session in August to correct the confusion. The bill was approved by a close vote of 21 to 15 and sent to the governor.
If Murphy signs the legislation, the law will go into effect in 90 days.
“We’ll be ready to be the ones to enforce it,” said Reynalda Cruz, who spent years working on and off at a series of temp agencies. She is now an organizer with New Labour, the local New Brunswick-based labor and social justice organization that has been teaching temporary English and fighting for worker protections for years.
“It’s a long time coming,” New Labor tweeted the day the bill made its way to Murphy’s office.
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Kelly Heyboer can be contacted at [email protected].