After months of lobbying and legislative wrangling, state lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill to strengthen protections for warehouse workers and other temporary workers.
The so-called “temporary workers bill of rights” had failed to garner enough votes in the state Senate three times in recent months. But it was ultimately approved after Sen. Vince Polistina, an Atlantic County Republican, joined his Democratic supporters in a vote at the Statehouse in Trenton.
Proponents estimate the measure will cover 127,000 temporary workers, a group that has grown in recent years with the proliferation of warehouses and distribution centers in New Jersey.
“This is an invisible workforce that has been left vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. They were cheated out of their pay, denied benefits, forced to work in unsafe conditions and charged unjustified fees by employers,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-Union . “The Bill of Rights will help right these past wrongs so that these workers are treated fairly.”
The legislation has already been passed by the National Assembly. Governor Phil Murphy said he backed him, having first demanded changes he said would ease the burden on recruiting agencies.
The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 21 to 16, the bare minimum needed for approval. Business groups have 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 that temporary employees receive the same pay and benefits that workplaces offer traditional staff, and it would prohibit agencies from deducting transportation and other mandatory fees often imposed on workers’ paychecks.
Temporary services should disclose basic details about an assignment to workers, including salary, location, hours of work, health and safety arrangements, and transportation.
Unions and immigrant rights groups that support the bill argue that agencies often funnel undocumented New Jersey immigrants into unsafe working conditions. Proponents say temporary staff members are sometimes kept on the same job site for years, becoming “perma-temporaries” even though they are paid less and excluded from regular benefits.
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“Justice has been served for the hundreds of thousands of essential agency workers who have been advocating for transparency in work assignments, fair wages, anti-retaliation measures and safe working conditions for years,” said Diana Bello, Member of Make the Road New Jersey. , an immigrant rights group that lobbied for the measure.
The New Jersey Business and Industry Association, a trade group for employers, challenged the requirement that temporary employees and regular staff receive the same pay.
“We have repeatedly warned that at least one key provision of it would increase the cost of using temp agencies so much, that it would jeopardize legitimate temp agencies, harm third-party companies that use and, therefore, would provide less opportunity for those seeking temporary employment,” said Alexis Bailey, NJBIA vice president of government affairs.
Lobbying on the bill has been intense.
On Wednesday, the New Jersey Monitor reported that 17 recruitment agencies opposing the bill were not registered to operate in the state. All 17 were members of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance, which urged lawmakers to reject the legislation, according to the report. Messages left by NorthJersey.com for the staffing alliance were not immediately returned on Thursday.
Daniel Munoz covers business, consumer affairs, labor and the economy for NorthJersey.com and The Record.
E-mail: email@example.com; Twitter:@danielmunoz100