Temporary staffing agencies that operate in New Jersey have ramped up their lobbying efforts over the past week to stop a measure they say would overregulate the industry and hurt their business.
The latest incarnation of the bill, which would offer additional protections to the state’s 130,000 temp workers, is up for a final floor vote in the state Senate on Monday, the last hurdle before reaching Gov. Phil Murphy, who will likely sign it.
State labor advocates have pushed for more regulations for temp agencies for years, a call that gained new urgency this year following explosive growth in the logistics and warehouse sector, where temp workers fuel at least a quarter of the labor. But staffing agencies have lobbied hard against the bill in recent months, setting up a tight fight on Monday over the future of temporary work in New Jersey.
At a meeting on Tuesday, members of the New Jersey Staffing Alliance encouraged temp agencies to give their employees two hours to call and email lawmakers and oppose the bill. A recording of the meeting was obtained by Gothamist.
“We're urging that all of you guys do the same, every single person that works for you,” said Roy James, CEO of On Target Staffing, during the meeting. “The more emails we have, the more phone calls we have to the senators, that's really what got us through to not getting this bill passed the last time because they actually said they were getting a lot of heat.”
A New Jersey Staffing Alliance spokesperson didn’t return requests for comment this week. On Target Staffing also didn’t return an emailed request for comment on Thursday.
Monday’s vote is expected to be close and will depend on whether bill sponsor Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union) can muster the support of 21 lawmakers, largely along party lines. Last month, a pair of Senate Democrats withdrew support at the last minute and the bill was pulled from a final vote, angering labor and immigrant groups that expected it to pass. That version had been a revision prompted by Murphy's conditional veto of another version in September, asking the Legislature to set aside funding and include "robust enforcement" mechanisms.
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) voted for earlier iterations of the bill but was one of the lawmakers who pulled his support last month. In the New Jersey Staffing Alliance call, managers of staffing agencies said Gopal wouldn’t support the bill. Gopal didn’t return requests for comment this week, but told NJ.com in October he wanted to do his due diligence after a temp agency in his district raised concerns.
“This legislation doesn't push the envelope. These are very basic worker protections. I mean, who would ever think that wage theft needed to be legislated?” Eric Richard, the legislative director for the New Jersey state AFL-CIO, which supports the bill, said in an interview.
The bill would ban temp agencies from making unitemized paycheck deductions for costs such as meals or transportation to and from work sites, which would often lower a worker’s pay below minimum wage. It would also require temp agencies to tell their workers where they are going to work and how much they will get paid. 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. The measure also requires temp agencies to pay their temp workers the same as permanent employees at a work site.
During the staffing agency meeting, James estimated the bill would increase costs for third-party clients by 35%, and said four of his clients said they would relocate to Pennsylvania if the bill passes, though he didn’t disclose which ones. Other New Jersey Staffing Alliance members said it was important to tell lawmakers the names of clients that would be affected, citing examples of Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Meyers, Amazon, Walmart, PSEG and UPS.
New Jersey’s fight over labor protections comes as warehouse safety concerns have attracted national attention. On Thursday, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing on warehouse worker issues, underscoring the industry’s increasing reliance on subcontracting staffing agencies and using temp workers.
Janeth Caicedo, whose brother Edilberto Caicedo died in 2019 while working at an unlicensed New Jersey temp agency, testified during the committee hearing.
“The warehousing and logistics industry is rife with safety risks, but imagine what this means for workers employed in warehouses via staffing agencies, which by design shield companies from responsibilities for the working conditions of the workers they employ,” she said.
Caicedo said the temp agency hadn’t been interested in maintaining a safe workplace. She didn’t name the agency.
“The company was accepting contract after contract and piling people inside the warehouse without maintaining any type of safety protocols,” she said.
Labor experts who testified said companies turn to temp work as a way to easily turn the spigot of labor on and off, while not having to pay higher wages and benefits. The subcontracting also insulates the main retailer or corporation from liability, experts said.
In recent days, groups like the ACLU, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey and the clergy have urged state senators to back the measure. In a letter to senators on Tuesday, they argued that Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in temporary staffing work, and are disproportionately harmed when the industry doesn’t protect them. They also cited a national study by the National Employment Law Project and supported by labor advocates that found that while Black workers make up 12.1% of the workforce, they comprise more than 25% of temp workers. Latinos constitute 16.6% of the workforce but 25% of temp workers, according to the study.
“This is another model by which, not all by any means, but some employers seek to increase their bottom line on the backs of workers,” Richard said. “That's why this is so important.”