Governor Murphy boots bill on temp workers’ rights back to lawmakers for changes

By: - September 23, 2022 6:59 am

Gov. Phil Murphy said a bill intended to strengthen worker protections should give the state more time to implement its provisions. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday sent a bill back to legislators for reconsideration that is intended to strengthen protections for temporary workers.

Labor advocates who pushed for the bill’s passage conceded the revisions Murphy recommended in his conditional veto are sound and urged legislators to act soon to tweak and pass the bill.

“Temp workers have been subject to wage theft, abuse, and exploitation for far too long. During the pandemic, we risked our lives to do essential work without adequate protections,” said Nidia Rodriguez, a temp worker and member of Make the Road New Jersey, which advocated for the bill. “We cannot wait for workers’ safety and livelihoods to be protected.”

Business groups are opposed to the bill, calling it burdensome and saying it could cause temporary staffing agencies to close.

In his veto statement, Murphy said he wants lawmakers to delay the bill’s implementation an extra 90 days to give state officials more time to train staff and otherwise prepare to carry out the bill. He also suggested honing how the state defines temporary laborers to ensure those “at greatest risk of exploitation” are protected.

Known as the Temporary Workers Bill of Rights, the legislation would:

  • Require firms that place temporary workers to register with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development and prohibit employers from hiring temporary laborers through unregistered firms.
  • Require companies to detail wages, transportation, and job length to temporary workers in their primary language, keep detailed records on laborers and work performed, and itemize laborers’ paychecks to spell out hourly wages and deductions.
  • Forbid firms from charging workers extra fees for transportation to or from worksites and ban them from restricting laborers from accepting permanent positions with employers.
  • Require firms to pay workers wages that meet the minimum wage after deductions for meals and equipment and mirror what permanent employees earn for similar work.

In his veto, Murphy said he supports the “overarching objectives” of the bill and agrees the state should “better protect the temporary workers who are critical to our state’s economy.”

“The protections contained in the bill will promote greater fairness in the industry, help address discriminatory labor practices, and promote racial and gender pay equity,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy proposed allocating $1 million to help the labor department better enforce the bill’s protections.

Reynalda Cruz, an organizer with worker advocacy group New Labor and a former temp worker, said Murphy’s requested revisions “will make the bill more clear for everyone — for temp workers, for businesses, and for government agencies.”

In New Jersey, more than 127,000 workers are employed by about 100 licensed temp staffing agencies and an unknown number of unlicensed agencies, many in cities with large Black, Latino, and immigrant communities.

Make the Road New Jersey and New Labor issued a report in June highlighting workers’ stories of abuse, wage theft, age and gender discrimination, and unsafe work conditions.

Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), one of the bill’s sponsors, was undaunted Thursday by the conditional veto.

“The governor shares the same goal of providing basic rights to temporary workers. We will work together to get this done,” Cryan said in a statement. “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.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association had lobbied against the bill when it was before the Legislature, calling its requirements “burdensome.” They repeated their objections again Thursday, after the governor’s veto.

Alexis Bailey, the association’s vice president of government affairs, singled out a provision in the bill that would require firms to give temporary workers pay and benefits commensurate to permanent employees. That’s an “extreme benefit” that’s not included in similar legislation passed by other states, she said.

“We remain steadfast in our position that that condition is unworkable,” Bailey said in a statement. “Temp agencies contract with multiple businesses that all have various benefits packages. These packages can encompass everything from 401k matches and health insurance to vacation days and life insurance policies. It will be a logistical impossibility for temp agencies to administer these extensive benefits that vary so widely across businesses to thousands of temporary workers.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.