Murphy recommended amendments to the measure on Thursday, including a $1 million appropriation to implement the bill and ensure “robust enforcement” of temp agencies that break the rules. He said he supported the bill’s effort to promote a fairer industry but said his changes would “bolster its administration and effectiveness.”
The bill would prohibit temp agencies from making certain deductions from workers’ paychecks, such as transportation costs to and from work sites, that cause earnings to drop below minimum wage. It would also require temp agencies to tell their workers where they will be sent for the day and how much they will be paid.
Additionally, the bill would make clear that workers have to be transported in vehicles to work sites that meet capacity limits and have one seatbelt per person. During the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gothamist reported that temp workers were crammed into vans, above vehicle capacity limits and despite public health recommendations to social distance. Gothamist also found some temp agencies were not certified by the state as required by law.
Workers who are taken to job sites but are sent home without work would also have to be compensated for at least four hours of work, under the bill. Temp agencies violating the rules could face daily $5,000 fines.
Murphy’s conditional veto doesn’t look to strike any of the protections outlined in the bill, but suggests technical changes to more clearly define the types of temporary workers who would be covered, such as those who labor in maintenance, construction, and food service and production.
Immigrant groups have long fought for more protections for temp workers and said Murphy’s conditional veto clarifies worker rights and streamlines enforcement of the law.
“Temp workers have been subject to wage theft, abuse, and exploitation for far too long. During the pandemic, we risked our lives to do essential work without adequate protections,” said Nidia Rodriguez, a temp worker and member of Make the Road NJ, in a statement. She urged the Legislature to accept the changes and pass the bill.
But representatives for temp agencies have spent the last few weeks lobbying for other changes to the bill, raising concerns that its passage would cost temp worker jobs and unfairly burden the agencies that employ them.
“The Temp Workers Bill of Rights addresses numerous very important issues that will improve the work environment for temp workers, but it contains several problematic areas for which we have advocated changes and have been ignored,” Jack Wellman, former president of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance, said in a statement on Thursday, prior to the bill’s veto. “The bill in its current form could tip some staffing agencies, particularly smaller ones, to shut their doors.”
The alliance has objected in particular to a provision requiring temp workers to receive the same benefits and pay as equivalent employees. The group says third-party companies don’t share information on benefits and wages for their permanent employees.
Lawmakers in both chambers initially approved the so-called “Temp Workers Bill of Rights” in June, but the Senate had to vote again in August because of a procedural error, delaying the bill’s passage. Murphy had until Thursday to take action on the bill, or it would have become law under constitutional deadlines.
Democratic Sen. Joe Cryan, who co-sponsored the bill, said he would work to get the measure as amended passed.
“We will work together to get this done,” he said. “This is an invisible workforce that has been left vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. They have been cheated out of their wages, denied benefits, forced to work in unsafe conditions, and charged unjustified fees by employers. The Bill of Rights will help correct these wrongs of the past so these workers are treated fairly.”
Make the Road NJ and New Labor issued a report in June that found many temp workers experienced wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination. It also found temp workers sometimes spend years working at the same locations, alongside permanent workers, but are paid much less. The bill would remedy that inequity, requiring temp agencies to pay temp workers the same rate as permanent employees are paid at the site.
The Protect NJ Workers coalition, which formed during the pandemic, also surveyed 360 workers from more than 50 cities in New Jersey this summer and issued a report that found many workers, including temp workers, don’t receive earned sick time as required under state law and don’t have a person at their workplace to help address health and safety issues.
Those polled worked in warehousing, construction, restaurants, manufacturing, laundry, agriculture, retail, domestic and industrial cleaning, maintenance, health care, dry cleaning, and small businesses.
“The temp worker bill of rights has been a long time coming for us,” said Reynalda Cruz, an organizer with New Labor and a former temp worker. She said Murphy’s amendments “will make the bill more clear for everyone — for temp workers, for businesses, and for government agencies — so the time is now to make it law.”