‘Essential, not disposable’ — NJ’s temp worker law now fully in effect

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By Dan Sears

New Jersey’s new law regulating the temporary worker industry has fully kicked into gear, formalizing protections for people playing an increasingly central role to product manufacturing, packaging of goods and food distribution.

The phased-in law, fully implemented as of Saturday, was the product of a years-long effort by labor and immigrant groups concerned about unsafe working conditions for temp employees, who are often immigrants or formerly incarcerated individuals.

“Today that stops. Today temp workers have the basic rights and protections that all workers should have in our state,” Sara Cullinane, executive director of Make the Road New Jersey, said during a Monday press conference in Elizabeth. “Temp workers are essential, not dispensable.”

New Jersey’s staffing agencies employ thousands of temporary workers in densely populated, immigrant-heavy cities including New Brunswick, Elizabeth and Passaic. They’re now subject to new regulations that include paying workers the same rate of pay and equivalent benefits as those received by full-time permanent employees at third-party sites. Agencies are also banned from deducting transportation costs from workers’ paychecks and are required to pay temp workers at least for four hours worth of work, even when workers are sent to third-party sites and clients decide not to utilize the workers.

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“This is a victory for us,” said Yolanda Junca, a temp worker for the last four years. “This changes many of our lives.”

The law was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in February, though earlier iterations of the bill were first proposed in 2016 by then-Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver in response to an NJ Advance Media investigation on temp worker conditions. Oliver, who most recently served as New Jersey’s lieutenant governor, died last week.

Part of the new temp law took effect in May, requiring staffing agencies to inform workers about where they will be working for the day, how much they will get paid, the length of the assignment, whether they need any special clothing and whether they will be given protective gear or training by the third-party client. The rest of the measure took effect on Saturday.

Staffing agencies have sued the state over the law and sought a temporary restraining order to stop its implementation, but a judge declined to grant one. The New Jersey Staffing Alliance didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

State Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, who sponsored the bill, said the new protections would keep workers safe. He said it was important to educate temp workers on their new rights and ensure staffing agencies were following the rules.

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“No legislation matters unless it’s enforced,” he said.

State Labor Commissioner Rob Asaro-Angelo said state officials haven’t yet cited any staffing agencies, which are subject to fines of $1,000 per violation. But he said the department and Division of Consumer Affairs would work diligently to enforce the new rules.

“Most importantly in this law is that [workers] are protected. There cannot be any retaliation against any worker for asking questions about this law or for bringing complaints forward like many of our worker protection laws in New Jersey,” he said.

Organizers said they were reaching out to workers to inform them of their rights. They said some temp workers are already complaining that staffing agencies aren’t following the first part of the law, which requires them to tell workers where they will be going for the day.

On Monday, members from New Labor and Make the Road New Jersey handed out flyers to temp workers on Elizabeth Avenue in Elizabeth and held signs detailing the law’s new provisions.

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“When I tell them about the transportation [rule] they say ‘oh’ and are surprised,” Mario Gamboa, a member of Make the Road New Jersey, said. He added that workers are also happy to hear those deductions will no longer eat into their paychecks, which often meant they received less than minimum-wage pay.

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