by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
A federal judge is set to decide whether parts of a new law overhauling the temporary worker industry will get into effect as planned next month, or whether state business organizations and staffing agencies are right that it’s too vague to be implemented as they challenge its constitutionality in court.
The bill’s critics, who lobbied against the bill aggressively as it made its way through the Legislature before it was signed into law earlier this year, say in court filings that attorneys representing the state have provided no reason why this “unique” legislation should “suddenly be thrust upon” New Jersey’s business community.
“This invites only chaos which is not in the public interest,” attorney Steven B. Harz, who represents staffing agencies in their suit against the legislation, said in a letter to the judge overseeing the case Thursday.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s office is defending the law, calling it “plainly comprehensible” and adding that related regulations set to be released by the state Department of Labor by July 21 will clarify what staffing agencies will be required to do.
“An emergency injunction is wholly unwarranted where asserted compliance costs are balanced against the statute’s weighty public interest: preventing exploitation of hundreds of thousands of temporary laborers that the Legislature has found to be particularly vulnerable to abusive labor practices,” state attorneys wrote in a May brief.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law, known as the “temp worker bill of rights,” in February after years of advocacy from local immigrant and labor groups. It aims to improve the unsafe working conditions reported by temporary staffers, who are often paid below minimum wage after facing deductions for transportation and meals.
New Jersey is home to an estimated 127,000 temporary workers, many of whom work at the same job site for years. They say this perma-temp status allows employers to avoid paying fair wages and benefits, and keeps temp workers from earning what their full-time counterparts do.
Immigrant groups celebrated the bill’s signing as a “new chapter” for temp workers.
Some aspects of the law, like a mandate that workers get basic information about their work assignments in their native language and a requirement that employers give notice if there’s a change in workers’ schedule or job site, are already in effect.
The New Jersey Staffing Alliance, along with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the American Staffing Alliance, are arguing against most of the provisions scheduled to go into effect Aug. 5, in particular one that would require temporary staffers to receive pay and benefits equivalent to their full-time counterparts.
The bill’s critics argue the legislation’s language is so vague it would leave staffing agencies in legal jeopardy. The law requires the agencies to obtain pay and benefits information from third-party employers who may not be willing to share it, the agencies’ lawyers note in court filings.
“Come Aug. 5, member companies and their clients risk joint and several liability for guessing wrong as to the meaning of these vague provisions,” Harz wrote in a July 3 letter to the judge overseeing the case.
Platkin’s office says that although new regulations are coming later this month, the statute as written is not too vague for staffing agencies to understand, and that there is no basis for an injunction to stop the law from going into effect “merely because a plaintiff raises questions about specific applications.”