After months of lobbying and legislative disputesstate lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill aimed at strengthening protections for warehouse workers and other temporary workers.
The so-called Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights failed to garner enough votes in the state Senate three times in recent months. But he finally won the endorsement after Sen. Vince Palstino, R-Atlantic County, joined his Democratic supporters in voting at the State House in Trenton.
Supporters estimate the measure would cover 127,000 temporary workers, a group that has grown in recent years with the increase in warehouses and distribution centers in New Jersey.
“This is an invisible workforce that has become vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. They have been cheated out of wages, denied benefits, forced to work in dangerous conditions and charged unreasonable fees by their employers,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-Union. “A bill of rights will help right these wrongs of the past so that these workers are treated fairly.”
The law has already passed the state assembly. Gov. Phil Murphy said he supported it after the first one which require changes which, he said, would ease the burden on recruitment agencies.
The Senate passed the bill by a 21-16 vote, the minimum required for approval. Business groups lobbied against it, arguing it would bury an industry that provides thousands of entry-level jobs for blue-collar workers and new immigrants.
The legislation requires temporary workers to receive the same wages and benefits that workplaces offer traditional employees, and it prohibits agencies from deducting transportation fees and other mandatory payments that are often deducted from workers’ paychecks.
Temporary agencies will be required to disclose basic information about the assignment to workers, including pay, location, hours of work, health and safety measures, and transportation.
Unions and immigrant rights groups that support the bill say that agencies often refer undocumented immigrants in New Jersey under hazardous working conditions. Activists say temporary workers are sometimes kept in the same job for years, becoming “permanent” even though they are paid less and are deprived of the usual benefits.
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“Justice has come for the hundreds of thousands of temporary workers who have been advocating for years for job transparency, fair pay, anti-retaliation and safe working conditions,” said Diana Bello, a member of Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant rights group that lobbied for this measure.
The New Jersey Association of Business and Industry, a trade group for employers, opposed the requirement that temporary workers and regular staff be paid the same.
“We have repeatedly warned that at least one key provision of it would raise the cost of using employment agencies so significantly that it would put legitimate employment agencies at risk, harm third-party businesses that use them and, as a result, provide fewer opportunities for those who looking for a temporary job,” said Alexis Bailey, NJBIA’s vice president of government relations.
Lobbying for the bill was intense.
On Wednesday New Jersey Monitor reports that 17 staffing agencies opposing the bill were not registered to operate in the state. All 17 were members of the New Jersey Personnel Alliance, which urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, the report said. Messages left with NorthJersey.com for the staffing alliance were not immediately returned Thursday.
Daniel Munoz covers business, consumer affairs, jobs and the economy for NorthJersey.com and The Record.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter:@danielmunoz100