A bill just passed by the Massachusetts legislature secures important rights for temporary workers. The Temporary Workers Right to Know Act would require temporary staffing agencies to provide employees with a written job order containing information about the staffing agency and worksite employer; the job requirements (including any special clothing, tools, and trainings necessary, and any costs that will be charged to the employee); details about when and how much the employee will be paid; and details about any fees the employee will be charged, such as for meals or transportation. It would also regulate the fees that staffing agencies and worksite employers can charge temporary workers, including requiring written contracts for goods or services charges and prohibiting the imposition of fees or costs that reduce workers’ pay to below the minimum wage.
For those who don’t know about the kinds of abuses that many temporary workers endure, it might be surprising that a law with such basic provisions is necessary in the first place. “Temp work” can call to mind workers staffing secretarial positions, but the Massachusetts bill, H. 4304, doesn’t even apply to “professional employee[s]” or “secretaries or administrative assistants.” As Elizabeth Grossman explained earlier this year in “Day-to-day Labor: The Hazards of Low-wage Temping in America,” a growing proportion of temp jobs are in the “blue collar” and service sectors, and many temp workers in these sectors report not receiving training, protective equipment, or all of the pay to which they’re entitled. The Massachusetts Coalition of Occupational Health and Safety (MassCOSH), which led the coalition seeking reforms in the temp industry, gives examples of the abuses its members have reported:
“I worked ten hours per day peeling fruit,” said Juan Calderas, a temporary worker and member of the MassCOSH Worker Center . “We had no breaks, until after ten hours of work. I was carrying a large bucket of fruit and fell. I broke two discs in my back. When the employer refused to pay my doctor’s bills, that’s when I learned that I wasn’t working for the company at all, but instead for a temporary agency.”
Temporary workers, including Calderas, joined together with a MassCOSH-led coalition of worker centers, unions, faith, community and legal groups to seek reforms in the temporary industry, after finding themselves injured and underpaid and unable to obtain justice. Many of the temporary workers reported being sent off to dangerous jobs with virtually no information about their employment – not even so much as the name of their employer and workers’ compensation provider, nor the amount of their wages.
“We had so many frustrated and upset workers coming to us for help with unpaid wages, injuries, illegal fees,” said Mirna Montano, MassCOSH Worker Center organizer. “With bad employers knowing that they could get away with leaving workers in the dark regarding almost everything: pay rate, who was covering workers’ compensation insurance, how much transportation would cost, it made achieving justice for these individuals very hard. The Temporary Worker’s Right to Know Act is going to really help us help workers.”
Congratulations to MassCOSH and its coalition partners on winning passage of this legislation. It’s now awaiting Governor Deval Patrick’s signature so it can be enacted in January 2013 and start ending shameful abuses of Massachusetts’ temporary workforce.