N.J. immigrant advocacy groups outraged over postponed vote on temporary workers’ rights bill

Interior view of the Assembly Chamber in the New Jersey State House. (SteveCummings/BigStock)

Interior view of the Assembly Chamber in the New Jersey State House. (SteveCummings/BigStock)

Immigrant rights advocacy groups in New Jersey are expressing outrage after the state Senate postponed a vote on a bill that supporters say would better protect temporary workers in the Garden State.

The proposal, known as the “temporary workers’ bill of rights,” has been in the works for several years.

It would require temporary work agencies to provide contracted temporary workers with pertinent information, such as job location, employee requirements, and compensation in English and the workers’ primary language. It also states that a worker’s wages must not fall below the minimum wage even after deductions are made for meals and equipment. Temporary work agencies and third-party clients would also be required to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs and maintain records about workers and their employment.

Failure to do so would result in fines of up to $1,000 per violation.

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Sponsors say the legislation would help protect Black and Latino workers, who make up a large share of the temporary workforce. According to the Legislature, more than 127,000 people work for temporary staffing agencies, many in production, transportation, material moving, and manufacturing industries.

Monday afternoon, protesters momentarily interrupted a Senate voting session, where legislative leaders pulled the bill from the agenda at the last minute. Senate leaders called for the removal of demonstrators from the Senate chambers.

“In the past weeks, a very well financed opposition with almost every major lobbying firm, major business multinational corporation, doing business in the state that relies on temp agency work, set up a campaign against the bill, in the final days to pressure senators to vote against it,”  said Sara Cullinane, Director of Make the Road New Jersey, a group that advocates for immigrant justice.

“We have to ask the question, which side are our legislators on?” Cullinane said. “Do they stand with workers, essential workers who they applauded during the pandemic, risked their lives when others were sheltering at home? Or do they stand with multinational corporations that are using temp agencies, substandard working conditions to make a profit?”

Opponents have said the bill would create red tape and cripple businesses. Groups like the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, or NJBIA, opposed the measure in a memo to Senators on Friday.

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“This legislation contains several concerning provisions that will negatively impact third-party companies utilizing the services of temporary workers and jeopardize the viability of the staffing industry,” said NJBIA’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Alexis Bailey.

In September, Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed the measure, forcing the General Assembly to pass new recommendations at his request, including appropriating $1 million for enforcement, earlier this month.

Some expected the Senate would do the same on Monday. However, the proposal did not have enough votes after some Democratic lawmakers pulled their support. 

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