Immigrant rights groups ‘frustrated’ after N.J. lawmakers postpone vote on temporary workers’ bill of rights

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

To New Jersey residents like Steven Mercado, temporary work agencies have long taken advantage of temporary workers.

Originally from Colombia, Mercado is an immigrant and a community leader in Elizabeth.

He’s helped advocate for immigrant communities in New Jersey by pushing for legislation known as the “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights,” which would codify safeguards for temporary workers.

This week, after the state Senate postponed a vote on the bill for the second time in a month, Mercado said immigrant rights groups, like his organization Make the Road New Jersey, are “frustrated.”

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A former temporary worker himself, Mercado says the legislation is essential to protect immigrants, who make up an overwhelmingly large share of the temporary labor force.

“A lot of people have been suffering a lot of abuse from [temporary work] agencies for 20 years. So it was very frustrating for us. Because yesterday, we were thinking that it would be the day that [the Senate] would approve the bill. And then this happens again,” Mercado said.

Mercado recounted bad memories of working as a forklift driver through a temporary work agency. He said employers paid him a lower rate than permanent staff for the same job, and that temporary workers sometimes have to pay high transportation costs associated with a job, even when their services aren’t needed.

“We are just asking for basic rights. We are not asking for a big thing,” Mercado said.

Mercado said his organization learned that a Senator who supports the bill couldn’t attend last Monday’s voting session due to health reasons. WHYY News could not independently verify the claim.

Richard McGrath, a spokesperson for Senate Democrats, said his caucus did not have the 21 votes needed to pass the proposal on Monday, and that Democrats will “try again in December.”

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The “Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights” would require 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 be required to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs and maintain records about workers and their employment, among many other provisions.

Immigrant rights advocates were removed from Monday’s Senate voting session after they erupted in protest over the delayed vote.

“This is not about politics. This is not about a political party. This is about workers and workers’ rights,” said Diego Bartesaghi, communications manager at Make the Road New Jersey. “We will continue fighting for our workers’ rights.”

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, in October.

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