Governor Deval Patrick today signed H. 4304, "An Act Establishing a Temporary Workers Right to Know." The legislation strengthens the Commonwealth's ability to regulate staffing and temporary agencies to protect vulnerable workers and level the playing field for businesses.
"Thousands of Massachusetts workers are sent off to work by staffing agencies without any idea of where they are going, what work they will do, and what they will be paid," said Governor Patrick. "This bill levels the playing field for all of our businesses while fulfilling our responsibility to make sure all of our workers are being treated fairly."
Workers employed by temporary and staffing agencies that cut corners might not know what type of work they will be required to do, their rate of pay or even the name of their employer. Workers employed under such conditions often fail to receive their earned wages or can be injured at hazardous worksites without workers' compensation coverage in place. This not only hurts workers, but also the law-abiding businesses that must bear the costs on behalf of these staffing agencies.
"The Temporary Workers Right to Know Bill promotes transparency and fairness," said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, Joanne F. Goldstein. "This legislation requires staffing agencies to provide employees with notice about basic information before going to a job, such as the temporary agency's contact information, workers' compensation carrier, and the rate of pay."
"This bill provides for a basic bill of rights for temporary workers," said Senator Jack Hart. "Every employee should have the right to know the amount of their wages, who they are employed by and any deductions which may be taken from their wages. I applaud the support of my colleagues in the legislature and the efforts of the many advocates who have worked tirelessly for many years to pass this important piece of legislation."
"After more than a year of meetings with a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including workers' advocates, representatives of the staffing industry and relevant state agencies and task forces, we have a comprehensive piece of legislation that strengthens a temporary workers right to critical information about their employment, while also minimizing the burden on employers. A temporary worker will now know what wages they can expect, what safety equipment they might need and who to call if they become injured on the job," said a sponsor of the bill, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester). "As Chair, I really focused on the impact of this bill on small businesses and worked to shape it in a way that is consistent with the staffing industry's current business practices. Staffing agencies will be able to continue quickly dispatching workers and also provide them with information in a variety of forms. I am happy we were able to get this bill to the finish line and I want to thank Governor Patrick, Speaker DeLeo, Chairman Dempsey, and Chair Coakley-Rivera for their leadership, recognizing the importance of this issue."
The bill also prohibits agencies from charging certain fees, like the cost of registering with the staffing agency or for performing a criminal record check. Staffing agencies are also prohibited from charging any fee that would reduce a worker's pay below the minimum wage, and are required to reimburse a worker if it sends him/her to a worksite for the purposes of working and no work is available.
The job order notification requirement, the central provision of the law, excludes professional workers under the broad definition of "professional" in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and secretarial and administrative assistants as described by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The new requirements under this law conform to industry standards practiced by the Commonwealth's staffing agencies. These provisions reflect the fact that this bill balances both workers' rights and the business needs of staffing agencies.
The Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development's Department of Labor Standards is currently responsible for registering staffing agencies, and will issue regulations and carry out inspections and investigations under this new law. The Office of the Attorney General will enforce the law.
"Too often workers in the low wage sector of the temp industry suffer exploitation and abuse. This bill will go a long way towards stopping that inhumane treatment. Just as often good temp and staffing agencies that play by the rules and respect their workers are undercut by the unscrupulous practices of the worst actors in the industry," said Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven A. Tolman. "This basic information and these basic protections will improve the safety and increase the dignity of these most vulnerable, most exploited workers. This law will both enable temp workers to seek redress when they are wronged, and serve as a deterrent to the bad behavior of the worst agencies, making it easier to compete for those who do right by their workers. We are grateful to the legislature and Governor Patrick for the progress this law represents for workers who do not have the protections of a union."
"With the Governor's signature, this law will bring essential sunlight to the shadows where these abuses have taken place, and help ensure fairness for workers and employers who follow the state's labor laws. We are grateful for the leadership the Governor and legislature has taken to ensure that workers receive basic and essential information about their jobs," said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and coordinator of the REAL (Reform Employment Agency Law) Coalition, which advocated for the bill's passage.
"This bill is a positive step forward for workers that are too often exploited as they simply try to make a living for their families. With the Governor's signature, we will now be able to ensure that basic protections are put in place for workers living on the margins," said Richard M. Rogers, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Greater Boston Labor Council.