After a mistake, Senate approves worker bill

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | AUGUST 9, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

A bill granting many temporary workers in New Jersey with what labor advocates are calling much-needed protections has finally been sent to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk more than a month after a legislative mix-up delayed its final adoption.

The measure, dubbed the “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights,” cleared the Senate on Monday during a rare August voting session.

Among its key provisions, the legislation would require temp agencies in New Jersey to keep written records that spell out key terms of employment like hours worked and the rate of pay to be earned by each worker.

It also calls for those hired by temp agencies to be provided with key details about workers’ compensation and contact information for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. In all, there are more than 100 licensed temp agencies in New Jersey that collectively employ more than 127,000 workers, according to the bill’s Democratic sponsors.

The bill has been strongly backed by labor unions and immigrant advocates, who note such temporary work is often performed in warehouses and by those easily taken advantage of due to their immigration status.

Business lobbyists opposed the bill, arguing that it calls for a series of “burdensome requirements” and could also bring on a flurry of costly lawsuits.

Monday’s vote remedies an error made in late June. The Senate scheduled the wrong version of the bill (A-1474) when more than 200 separate pieces of legislation were voted on by lawmakers as they rushed to begin a lengthy summer break.

Temp workers ‘risked their own lives’

In the run-up to Monday’s vote, labor unions and immigrant advocates pressed lawmakers to approve the bill, arguing that improving standards for temporary workers will be good for both businesses and workers. To back up those claims, they cited statistics from other states that have enacted similar measures, including increased rates of employment for workers and increased sales for their employers.

Temporary workers, they noted, were also among the many who stayed on the job throughout the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic while many higher-wage earners were able to work from the safety of their homes.

“Temp workers’ labor kept New Jersey afloat through the pandemic in key industries such as manufacturing and warehouse/logistics work,” a coalition of labor unions, immigrant advocates and other organization said in a news release.

“They risked their own lives to support others to shelter in place in the worst months of the pandemic,” according to the release.

Costly class-action lawsuits?

But among the provisions in the bill that were flagged as “unworkable” in a summary prepared by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association is a requirement that temporary workers receive the same compensation as a company’s equivalent payroll employee.

Alexis Bailey, who serves as the association’s director of government affairs, noted employee benefits often encompass a wide range of offerings. They can include health insurance, 401(k) matches and life insurance policies, she said.

“Since temporary laborers are not employees of third-party businesses, they cannot be directly enrolled into the various types of benefit plans that may be provided to a third-party business’ permanent workforce,” Bailey said.

The bill also includes a “private right of action” provision that could bring on class-action lawsuits that have the potential to drive up the cost of doing business in New Jersey, Bailey said.

“The bill also provides for liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees, which will encourage class action suits with the goal of large settlement payouts,” she said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the legislation by a 21 to 15 margin after several minutes of debate.

The version of the bill that was up for consideration Monday has already been passed in the Assembly, where Democrats are also in the majority. That made the Senate vote the last step needed for the measure to go to Murphy for final consideration — something Senate leaders thought they had accomplished more than a month ago.

If enacted by the governor, who is also a Democrat, the new worker protections will go into effect 90 days after he takes action, according to the bill.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-09 03:30:20 -0700