N.J. temp firms call for stricter enforcement of laws in light of investigation

New Jersey does not need new laws to crack down on abuses in the temporary worker industry, but it must do a better job enforcing regulations already on the books, a statewide industry group said.

The New Jersey Staffing Alliance, a group that represents more than 140 employment companies, released a letter last week calling for new fines and more staff at state agencies overseeing the industry in response to “The invisible workforce,” an NJ Advance Media series published last month.

The series detailed racial discrimination, low wages, unsafe working conditions and sexual harassment some New Jersey temp workers say they face on a daily basis.

Death and despair in N.J.’s temp industry

Many blue collar temp workers — who are usually paid between $8.38 and $11 an hour in warehouse or factory jobs — said they avoid reporting mistreatment because they are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The series also found several prominent temp agencies in and around New Brunswick appear to be operating without a license. 

“We agree that the report’s issues are important and need to be addressed in a collaborative, positive and constructive manner by all levels of government, the business community and society,” Richard Scott, vice president for legal and legislative affairs for the Kinnelon-based NJSA, wrote in the letter.

However, the group rejected calls for new state laws governing the temp industry. Instead, Scott said the NJSA encourages the state Legislature to:

  • Increase money and staff at state agencies to enforce existing laws protecting workers.
  • Create new fines to help pay for added enforcement efforts.
  • Make it easier for workers and others to file a complaint with a state agency.
  • Where possible, amend state laws so a worker living in the U.S. illegally will not be deported as a consequence of filing a complaint with a state agency.

New Jersey is not among the states that require temp agencies to use E-Verify, a federal system that helps check if workers have valid Social Security numbers and are living in the U.S. legally.

“The Alliance will continue to educate New Jersey’s staffing industry on their legal obligations and advocate for legally compliant treatment of employees by both staffing firms and clients,” Scott said.

New Jersey’s booming temp industry is governed by a complex mix of state and federal agencies and laws. Advocates for temp workers say many of the government agencies lack the funding and staff to oversee the temp industry, which has grown to more than 90,000 workers in New Jersey.

The state Division of Consumer Affairs, the agency that oversees the licensing of temp agencies, has collected $45,511 in civil penalties and taken action against eight employment and temp firms since 2003, said Lisa Coryell, a spokeswoman for the division.

Another three temp firms are under review for alleged violations, she said.

“The division is committed to enforcing the laws governing employment agencies and temporary help service firms, and to ensuring that workers are protected under those laws,” Coryell said.

Anyone who wants to file a complaint against a temp agency with Consumer Affairs can do so easily via the agency’s website or by phone, she said.

“However, the division receives very few complaints from temporary workers, many of whom may be working without proper documentation and fear being arrested or deported if identified in a complaint with a state agency,” Coryell said. “More commonly, the complaints the division receives regarding employment agencies and temporary help service firms come from community organization leaders and attorneys specializing in immigration law.”

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find her at KellyHeyboerReporter on Facebook.

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