In this NorthJersey.com editorial, Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-39) discusses a bill stalled in Trenton that would put the entire temporary work industry and the New Jersey economy at risk and her alternative legislation that can end the logjam and provide temp workers the protections they deserve:
In this NorthJersey.com editorial, Sen. Holly Schepisi discusses a bill stalled in Trenton that would put the entire temporary work industry and the New Jersey economy at risk and her alternative legislation that can end the logjam and provide temp workers the protections they deserve. (©iStock)
Too often, politicians in Trenton respond to reports of wrongdoing by pushing for overbearing new laws instead of advocating for better enforcement of those already on the books.
That’s what’s happening today with a complex and likely destructive bill that could hurt temporary workers, staffing agencies, and the client businesses they help to fill important positions on a temporary basis.
The staffing industry is a major contributor to New Jersey’s economy, helping place more than 500,000 people annually into jobs through an estimated 1,150 staffing and temp agency offices across the state.
Staffing and temp agency employees support nearly 100,000 workers each week who work in temporary roles where they can earn paychecks and support the needs of thousands of businesses across the broad spectrum of industries that make up the Garden State economy.
The entire temporary work ecosystem is now at risk of having onerous new requirements and unfair liabilities placed upon it through legislation, S-511, sponsored by my colleague, Senator Joseph Cryan (D-20).
His bill, which has stalled just short of final passage, could impact everyone from mom-and-pop shops to large corporations that use temporary workers to help fill positions where work needs to be done.
While Senator Cryan should be lauded for his desire to improve protections for temporary workers, we have heard from both staffing agencies and the business community that his proposal is not equitable or reasonable.
And for many of the problems his bill seeks to address, they’re already covered by existing laws that simply need better enforcement.
In a recent editorial calling for the passage of his bill, Senator Cryan recounted several tragic events involving temporary workers, all of which appear unlikely to have been prevented by his legislation.
In one of the given examples, a van carrying temporary workers from a job site was involved in a fatal wreck. None of the passengers were wearing seatbelts when the driver suffered a medical episode leading to the crash, which no new law could have prevented.
In another example he cited, a temporary worker operating a forklift was killed in a warehouse accident. The worker apparently did not receive training to use the equipment, a violation of existing safety requirements.
Unfortunately, Senator Cryan’s legislation would do nothing to prevent or remedy workplace safety violations before tragic accidents like that occur.
Those violations, however, can be identified through greater diligence by state and federal safety inspectors or reported anonymously by workers with concerns.
Senator Cryan also expressed concern that many temporary workers make less than $15/ hour, which itself is not illegal. Any worker, temporary or otherwise, who is paid less than the minimum wage (currently $13/ hour) can easily report wage violations to the Department of Labor for investigation.
His bill, however, goes much further than simply ensuring that temporary workers are paid the minimum wage. It actually requires them to be paid the same wage and provided the same benefits (or the equivalent cash value) as a permanent employee of the client who does similar work.
As a result of the bill, a temp worker with no experience in a certain role could have their compensation tied to that of a dedicated employee of a company who worked hard over many years to gain experience, build a reputation for good work, and earn pay increases.
That equal pay provision certainly isn’t fair to a high-performing permanent employee who actually earned a higher wage, nor is it a reasonable burden to place upon a business that should be able to fill a role temporarily at a market-supported rate.
Rather than pay an unreasonable wage for a temp, many businesses will simply leave jobs unfilled, which would lower productivity, hurt our economy, and result in fewer opportunities for temporary workers to earn a fair paycheck.
Finally, Senator Cryan’s bill would create unreasonable risk in the form of joint liability for temp agencies and their client companies for violations that may be committed by the other party.
A client company that does everything by the book, for example, could be sued and held liable if the temp agency doesn’t handle paperwork or paychecks for workers correctly on their end.
It’s unfair to hold a business financially liable for mistakes they didn’t make and can’t control.
None of this is to say there aren’t any new protections for temporary workers that make sense. That’s why I’ve proposed an alternative bill, S-3182, that is based on an effective and well-researched law recently implemented in Massachusetts.
My bill addresses a number of Senator Cryan’s legitimate transparency and transportation concerns.
For example, temp agencies would be required to provide more information to workers in writing, including details of the jobs in which they are being placed, clear information on wages, and contact information to resolve problems.
It also would prevent temporary workers from being forced to pay excessive amounts for transportation to job sites, and they wouldn’t have to pay anything if they’re required to take provided transportation.
Most importantly, my legislation would help workers without putting the entire temporary work industry or our New Jersey economy at risk, which is why it’s supported by both the New Jersey Staffing Alliance and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.
What I’ve proposed is an equitable, reasonable, and achievable alternative that can end the logjam in Trenton and provide temporary workers the increased protections they deserve.
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