Make the Road New Jersey rallied for nearly 18 months to secure funds for excluded workers. (Courtesy Make the Road New Jersey)
A bill to expand protections for temporary workers that was pulled suddenly during a mid-October voting session will go before lawmakers again Monday.
“It needs to be done to protect workers, protect the industry, allow for fairness. It’s the right bill, it’s the right bill now, and it’s the right time,” Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), the bill’s prime sponsor, told the New Jersey Monitor Thursday.
The measure, S511, narrowly passed both legislative chambers over the summer but required a revote after a procedural error. Gov. Phil Murphy then conditionally vetoed it, asking lawmakers to add $1 million in funding for enforcement and tighten the definition of temp workers.
While the Assembly passed the updated bill, it unexpectedly failed in the Senate in October after two Democrats were absent and several others pulled their support. Immigrant groups and the bill’s sponsor were outraged, calling out business groups and temp agencies who had lobbied against the measure.
Cryan was optimistic Thursday that senators will pass the bill Monday.
“We’ve had conversations with colleagues who needed more information, required more information. We’ve been able to provide that, so I’m confident moving forward,” Cryan said without naming any of the holdouts.
A bill needs 21 votes to pass the state Senate, where Democrats hold a majority of 24-16 over Republicans.
The bill, known among activists as the “temp worker bill of rights,” would require temporary workers to receive salary and benefits equivalent to traditional workers, bar agencies from deducting transportation fees from workers’ paychecks, and improve record-keeping to reduce labor violations. Agencies also would be required to provide advance notice of assignments, including conditions like pay rate, hours, length of assignment, amount of sick leave, and health and safety concerns.
It would provide some of the most sweeping protections for temp workers in the nation, supporters say.
About 127,000 workers in the state are considered temporary employees, but supporters say they are often treated as “perma-temps” and hired by the same agency continuously. Without a law protecting workers, Cryan said, agencies can continue exploiting workers, who are largely people of color and immigrants. They usually take labor-intensive jobs in warehouses or face abuse from unregulated staffing agencies.
After the bill came so close to becoming law, immigrant activists who spent years advocating for it say further delays are “not an option.”
“Failure to bring the temp workers bill of rights to a fourth vote, and vote in favor, it will be a dishonor to the decades of organizing and fighting for essential temp workers’ rights, and it will also be a dishonor to the many lives we have lost due to negligence in the workplace,” Make the Road New Jersey said in a statement.
The Elizabeth-based group disrupted the Senate’s October session, prompting Sen. Dick Codey (D-Essex), who was presiding over the chamber at the time, to expel the activists from the gallery.
Ahead of Monday’s vote, more than 20 advocacy groups and labor unions sent a letter to Murphy and Senate leadership urging them to pass the bill. They called the bill “sound legislation with bipartisan support that reflects a compromise between labor interests and business groups.”
But those business groups insist if the bill became law, it would hurt staffing agencies that cannot comply with the terms of the legislation.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association opposed the bill, primarily because of the requirement that temp staffers receive the same compensation and benefits as regular employees. That’s a burdensome mandate that could prompt workers to sue staffing agencies and the third-party companies that use them for noncompliance, said Alexis Bailey, the association’s vice president of government affairs.
“We remain steadfast in our position that that condition is unworkable. Temp agencies contract with multiple businesses that all have various benefits packages,” Bailey said. “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.”
After Monday’s session, the Senate isn’t scheduled to reconvene again until Dec. 22.
Congressional hearing on temp workers
Advocates are also fighting for protection for temporary workers at the federal level. On Thursday, Janeth Caicedo testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in Washington, D.C. on unsafe working conditions in warehouses.
Her brother Edilberto worked for an unlicensed, Kearny-based warehouse staffing agency when his skull was crushed during a 2019 workplace accident. He died four days later.
“I think the accident was the company’s fault,” Caicedo said, tearing up. “The company didn’t follow OSHA regulations. There was no interest in keeping a safe workplace at all. The company was accepting contract after contract and piling people inside the warehouse without maintaining any type of safety protocols. The equipment was also unsafe. The company didn’t keep up the machines and didn’t provide adequate training. These conditions would end up killing my brother.”
Caicedo called on policymakers to protect workers, who face retaliation, demotion, or termination for speaking out against poor working conditions.
“Temporary warehouse workers like my brother could not speak up about safety risks and expect to keep their jobs,” she said.
Dana DiFilippo contributed to this story.
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