N.J. law regulating temporary staffing industry can go into effect, judge rules

Ruling is major win for immigrant groups who lobbied years for temp worker protections

By: - July 27, 2023 10:08 am

The law known as the "temporary workers' bill of rights” was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in February after years of advocacy from immigrant and labor groups. (Sophie Nieto-Munoz | New Jersey Monitor)

A federal judge Wednesday declined to stop New Jersey from enforcing a new law overhauling the temporary employment industry that critics claim is unconstitutional, representing a huge win for temporary workers and advocates who fought years for safe working conditions.

The judge’s decision paves the way for new benefits and protections for the workers to go into effect next week. They include providing temporary workers the average pay and benefits given to their full-time counterparts — a provision staffing agencies claim is too burdensome.

Obtaining that information from different employers might make compliance with the new law difficult, but does not make the law “unconstitutionally vague,” U.S. District Court Judge Christine P. O’Hearn said in the opinion made public Wednesday.

“Plaintiffs know the information they need and from where it must be obtained, just not how to get it (or, at least, so they say),” she said.

The law, known as the “temporary workers’ bill of rights,” was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in February after years of advocacy from immigrant and labor groups. It will offer New Jersey’s estimated 127,000 temp workers protections from retaliatory employment actions, unsafe working conditions, and pay deductions for meals and transportation. Some provisions of the law went into effect in May, and the remainder will start on Aug. 5.

Garrett O’Connor, policy and organizing director at immigrant advocacy organization Make the Road New Jersey, said the group is looking forward to staffing agencies being held fully accountable under the new law, which creates fines for agencies found in violation.

“The New Jersey Staffing Alliance’s failed attempt to stop the enforcement of the New Jersey temp workers’ bill of rights sadly typifies the approach of too many staffing agencies and the greedy corporations they serve to find gimmicks and loopholes that allow them to ignore workers’ rights,” he said. “This was yet another desperate attempt by staffing agency owners and the mega-corporations they serve to avoid abiding by urgently needed protections for essential temp workers.”

Attorney General Matthew Platkin in a statement said he’s “grateful that the district court correctly upheld the law.”

“The New Jersey temporary workers’ bill of rights promises temporary workers in our state the same rights and dignity as everyone else, which is why we’ve been vigorously defending it for months in federal court,” he said. “My office will continue to fight for workers across the state.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association called the ruling “disappointing.” The New Jersey Staffing Alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Those groups led aggressive lobbying efforts against the bill, which led to several failures to win passage in the Legislature before it finally advanced to the governor’s desk. Days before the first set of provisions were set to go into effect in May, the groups filed their lawsuit calling the law unconstitutional.

They contend the law, particularly the pay provisions, will grind the staffing industry “to a halt.” They submitted declarations from staffing businesses claiming they could lose millions of dollars in revenue and that clients are threatening to cancel services.

But the plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim, O’Hearn wrote. She noted that when attorneys for staffing agencies asked in court how proper pay and benefits should be calculated under the new law, they noted that such calculations would involve the length of service of workers, the time of work, merit, workplace locations, quality or quantity of production, travel, education, and more.

“By raising these questions, plaintiffs have given away the game: they are tacitly admitting that they know exactly the sort of relevant factors that ought to be considered,” she said.

She also noted that the Department of Labor released proposed regulations on July 21 intended to clarify the law, and that staffing agencies are invited to provide public comment while the regulations are being finalized.

“Whatever questions plaintiffs still might have, now is their chance to get the answers they need,” she said.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.