Temporary workers protesting in front of the Statehouse in Trenton with a sign calling for respect and equal pay on Nov 21, 2022. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)
Another attempt to advance a bill expanding the rights of temp workers failed Monday when Senate leadership pulled the bill from the voting session, leading to howls of protest from immigrant activists who were then thrown out of the Senate chambers.
It was the second time in about a month that a vote on the measure was postponed moments before it was expected to go up for a vote. Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) told reporters there weren’t enough yes votes for the bill to pass Monday.
Immigrant groups who have lobbied for the bill’s passage — they rallied in front of the Statehouse ahead of the Senate’s voting session — expressed dismay.
Rosa, a temporary worker from Newark who asked not to use her last name out of fear of retaliation, said in Spanish after she was thrown out of the chambers that the Senate’s inaction “is just not right.”
“This is injustice, this is not fair, and they cannot keep doing this to us,” she said. “We deserve protections just like every other person with a job does.”
Monday’s postponed vote was the latest speed bump for the bill, which passed both chambers in June but required a revote due to a procedural error. It was then sent to Gov. Phil Murphy, who conditionally vetoed the bill in September, sending it back to the Legislature with suggested changes. In October, a revised version of the measure was pulled from the Senate’s agenda after failing to secure enough votes for passage, in part because some senators were out sick and others said they no longer supported it.
The bill with Murphy’s suggested changes passed the Assembly on Oct 3.
At least two lawmakers were also not present Monday, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex).
Scutari told reporters he anticipates posting the bill again during the next voting session on Dec. 22.
Democrats hold a 24-16 majority in the Senate, but legislation requires 21 votes to advance. It passed with 21 votes in August, before Murphy’s veto.
New Jersey is home to about 127,000 temp workers, many of whom are consistently employed by the same companies as “perma-temps” but do not receive the same pay, benefits, or protections as employees.
The bill would require temporary workers to receive salaries and benefits equivalent to traditional workers, bar staffing agencies from deducting transportation fees from workers’ paychecks, and require improved record-keeping in an attempt to reduce labor violations. Employment 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 information.
Sen. Joe Cryan, the bill’s sponsor, seemed disappointed Monday but said he remains confident the bill will make its way across the finish line.
“We’re going to fight for this bill and it’s eventually going to pass, no matter how much money and these agencies try to stop it,” said Cryan, a Union County Democrat.
After Murphy conditionally vetoed the bill, business groups ramped up their efforts to lobby against it, claiming the legislation would be nearly impossible to implement and could drive some staffing agencies out of business. They say the requirement that temporary workers be paid the average compensation rate and the cash equivalent of their permanent employee counterparts is a “key and costly provision.”
This “will greatly jeopardize legitimate temp agencies, harm the third-party businesses that use them at a time of great workforce challenges, and provide less opportunity for those seeking temporary unemployment,” said Alexis Bailey of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant rights and labor organization that has pushed for passage of the bill, blasted Senate leadership for failing to secure protections for temporary workers.
“Now’s not the time to leave temp workers behind. Not passing this bill is just saying that temp workers are disposable and that business interests are more important than our own humanity as workers,” said Reynalda Cruz, a New Labor organizer and former temp worker.
Janeth Caicedo, who testified in front of Congress last week about her brother — a temporary worker who was killed at his worksite in 2019 when a forklift crushed his skull — called the Senate’s decision to delay the vote yet again a “dishonor to the many lives we have lost” in a statement from Make the Road.
In September, four temp workers were killed after a van overturned in Englewood Cliffs while transporting workers from their shift at a warehouse in Chester, New York.
Ahead of Monday’s Senate session, more than 20 advocacy groups and labor unions wrote a letter to Murphy and Senate leadership calling on them to advance the measure.
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