After numerous delays, the state Senate Feb. 3 finally passed a measure known as “The Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights,” by a narrow 21-16 vote.
The measure – Senate Bill 511/Assembly Bill 1474 – provides protections for temporary workers and sets standards for the agencies that employ them. It has been a lightning rod for both supporters and opponents. The Thursday session drew out a number of advocates in the gallery who cheered as the vote came through.
Sen. Joe Cryan, D-20th District, the prime sponsor of the legislation, said it is necessary because of the growing temp industry in New Jersey – fueled in large part by the boom in warehouse and e-commerce space – with estimates of at least 127,000 people working for some 100 licensed such companies, and many more working for unlicensed entities outside of regulators’ purview.
“This is an invisible workforce that has been left vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. They have been cheated out of their wages, denied benefits, forced to work in unsafe conditions and charged unjustified fees by employers,” said Cryan. “The Bill of Rights will help correct these wrongs of the past so these workers are treated fairly.”
Cryan said these are usually low-wage workers, including “perma-temps,” who are repeatedly hired by the same employer but denied the rights and benefits most full-time workers receive.
“Many temp workers are people of color or first-generation Americans who are working hard to support themselves and their families,” said Cryan. “Because of their circumstances, they are vulnerable to mistreatment. This bill would help ensure their rights and make sure they have the information they need to protect themselves.”
The measure will provide a number of protections for temp workers while imposing certain requirements for firms.
Companies would be prohibited from charging excessive fees and be required to meet a minimum wage threshold. They would also be required to disclose to the temp laborer – in their primary language – details on the work to be performed, including a description of the position, wages, terms of transportation and the length of the assignment, while spelling out hourly wages and deductions.
The legislation calls for firms to register with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development and bars third-party clients from employing temporary laborers through an unregistered firm.
Perhaps most notably, the bill protects temp laborers from retaliation for exercising any rights under the measure.
The road to this point was anything but smooth.
After initially passing last year, Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed the measure, calling for some technical tweaks and clarifications on enforcement, as opposed to requesting any sweeping or structural changes.
The Assembly passed the revised bill in October. The Senate, however, struggled for the necessary votes to pass, canceling several scheduled voting sessions over the last few months.
On Thursday, the bill passed with the minimum number needed, 21, with Sen. Vince Polistina, R-2nd District, voting with Democrats.
“All people, regardless of their background, the color of their skin, or where they are from, should be treated equally under the law, and that certainly includes temporary workers,” said Polistina. “These men and women are chasing the same American dream as the rest of us – the opportunity to work hard, provide for their families, and better themselves. Everyone, even those who opposed it, agree that this bill does that.”
In an effort to allay some concerns from the business community about the legislation, Polistina said he is working in a bipartisan fashion with Sen. Vin Gopal, D-11th District, to introduce two bills to address some outstanding issues and concerns. One measure would require the Labor Department to furnish a study examining the effects of temporary employment on the workforce, while the second would require the state Department of Transportation to establish and administer a transportation grant program to provide funding to offset workforce transportation costs.
Alexis Bailey, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), said that NJBIA has always appreciated the intent of the bill but feels it goes too far.
“We have repeatedly warned that at least one key provision of it would so greatly drive up the cost of utilizing temp agencies, that it would jeopardize legitimate temp agencies, harm third-party businesses that use them, and, as a result, provide less opportunity for those seeking temporary employment,” Bailey explained in a statement. “The bill narrowly passed by the Senate today, after not having enough votes on previous occasions, requires temporary workers to be paid the average compensation rate and benefits or the cash equivalent of the average cost of benefits paid to their employee counterparts.”
Bailey said that means some temporary workers will be making more than permanent employees whose wages are determined by seniority and experience.
But New Jersey, as is unfortunately typical, has gone a step too far to be an outlier in bringing as many burdens to business as possible.
— Alexis Bailey, vice president of government affairs, NJBIA
“Other states like Illinois and Massachusetts have taken steps to bring further protections and transparency for temporary workers without this damaging provision,” said Bailey. “But New Jersey, as is unfortunately typical, has gone a step too far to be an outlier in bringing as many burdens to business as possible.”
She added that because of this bill, the state’s staffing industry, a major economic contributor, will be worse off.
“Employers will face even greater challenges as they seek to fill gaps in their workforce,” said Bailey. “Ultimately, the unintended consequences will hurt the very workers this bill seeks to protect.”
On the other side of the coin, advocacy groups are jubilantly celebrating this hard-fought victory.
“After years of organizing against a well-financed opposition, together we won #Justice4TempWorkers,” Make the Road New Jersey, one of the groups spearheading the effort, tweeted out following the vote.
After years of organizing against a well financed opposition, together we won #Justice4TempWorkers
— Make the Road New Jersey 🦋 (@MaketheRoadNJ) February 2, 2023
The New Jersey State AFL-CIO put out a statement applauding the Senate passage, particularly shouting out Polistina for crossing party lines to get the bill across the finish line.
“The bill would increase accountability for staffing firms and reform the temporary staffing industry so certain unscrupulous businesses can no longer take advantage of workers,” Charles Wowkanech, president, and Laurel Brennan, secretary-treasurer, said in the statement.
The legislation now heads to Murphy’s desk to be signed into law, which he is expected to do.