Muoio Legislation to Crack Down on Modern-Day ‘Sweatshop’ Conditions Threatening Temporary Workers Advances

Legislation Inspired by Recent Multi-Part Investigative Series that Exposed Harrowing Work Conditions

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio sponsored to crack down on the abuse and exploitation of temporary workers in New Jersey after a recent multi-media investigative series exposed a vast range of unsafe and hazardous conditions, pay violations and hostile working environments was advanced Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

As the investigation noted, New Jersey has one of the largest concentrations of temporary workers in the nation due to the high volume of warehouse jobs that process goods shipped through Port Newark. The series found many employment environments where temporary workers received little to no safety training, were denied overtime pay or fair compensation, and faced rampant racial and sexual harassment, essentially amounting to modern day “sweatshop” conditions.

“Temporary workers are a growing, yet invisible, sector of New Jersey’s workforce,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Many of these employees do labor-intensive, back-breaking work while being subjected to mistreatment and denied overtime pay. They provide services that are crucial to the flow of our economy, yet many are subjected to turn of the century workplace practices, some of which are reminiscent of the horrible conditions that led to tragedies like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. For instance, you have situations where workers who have received little to no safety training are exposed to things such as hazardous chemicals.

“Yet, because they’re not part of a union, they have little to no voice or collective power to demand better conditions. It shouldn’t take a tragedy to spark change. We need to be proactive and empower these employees to protect themselves. Stricter oversight and reporting requirements will help prevent injuries and deaths, ensure workers are compensated fairly so they can better support their families and boost our economy overall.”
Muoio’ s bill (A-4278) would establish services for reporting employer and employment service violations and require employers to post certain notifications informing employees of that service.

Specifically, the bill requires the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) to establish, maintain, and prominently display on the department’s website, toll-free telephone hotline and electronic mail services for reporting violations by employers and employment services of laws, including, but not limited to, the state wage and hour laws, the “New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act,” and the “Law Against Discrimination.”

The reporting services are to assist in the reporting of criminal or other violations, and may refer matters to other state agencies when necessary. The services will also assist in connecting workers to appropriate agencies within the state and federal labor departments, or other government agencies that may assist any worker to claim a benefit. Procedures must also be established for anonymous reporting of violations by employers and employment services.

The bill directs the commissioner to include staff who speak English and Spanish, as well as staff who are fluent in any other language that the commissioner determines is the first language of a significant number of workers in the state.

The bill requires every employer and employment service in this state to conspicuously post notification giving a brief summary of workers’ rights in the state and notifying workers of the reporting services established pursuant to the bill. The notices must be posted in a place or places accessible to all workers in each of the employer’s or employment service’s workplaces, in a form issued by regulation promulgated by the commissioner.

In the case of a temporary help service firm providing workers with transportation services to get to or return from the site of work, the notification must be conspicuously posted in the transportation, as well as at the physical location of the temporary help service firm.

The employer or employment service is required to provide each worker with a written copy of the notification:
1) not later than 30 days after the form of the notification is issued by the commissioner;
2) at the time of the worker’s hiring or placement, if the worker is hired or placed after the issuance;
3) annually, on or before December 31 of each year, if the worker is an ongoing employee or placement of the employer or employment service; and
4) at any time, upon the first request of the worker.

The employer or employment service must make the written copy of the notification available to each worker via printed material, including, but not limited to, a pay check insert, brochure, or similar informational packet provided to new hires or placements.

The notification provided by the employer or employment service must contain an acknowledgement that the worker has received the notification and has read and understands its terms. The acknowledgement must be signed by the worker, in writing or by means of electronic verification, and returned to the employer or employment service within 30 days of its receipt.

The bill requires the commissioner to make the notification available in English, Spanish, and any other language that the commissioner determines is the first language of a significant number of workers in the State.

The bill also stipulates that it is unlawful for an employer or employment service to violate its provisions or take adverse action against an employee or placement in retaliation for the worker’s use of the services established pursuant to the bill. An employer or employment service that violates the bill’s provisions or retaliates against a worker is liable to a civil penalty of not less than $1,000 for the first violation, not less than $1,500 for the second violation, and not less than $2,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Labor Committee in December. The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.