From the growth of the “gig economy” to employment structures that leave workers wondering “who’s the boss,” we’re seeing a major restructuring in the way businesses organize their workplaces in the modern economy—changes that have kept people working hard but making less. So-called “temporary employment”—where companies use staffing agencies or temp agencies to find labor and then too often refuse to take responsibility for the workers in their worksites—is an extreme example of how the new economy leaves working-class people behind, toiling in dangerous conditions with low pay and no stability. But workers and progressive lawmakers are tackling the problem, and a new law in Illinois is leading the way in addressing temp worker abuse.

Illinois Enacts New Law Protecting Temp Workers

The Responsible Job Creation Act (HB0690) updates Illinois’ innovative Day and Temporary Labor Service Act. It addresses rampant problems in the industry: Dangerous conditions, discrimination, low pay and wage theft, and “perma-temping”—all practices that occur when companies use staffing and temp agencies and hand off all employer responsibilities.  It was passed on September 22, 2017 and will go into effect on June 1, 2018.

Dangerous Work

Across the country, the most shocking abuses in the temp industry are health and safety violations. For example, Day Davis, 21, was crushed to death on his first day as a temp at a Bacardi factory in Florida; Samir Storey, a 39-year-old father of three, was killed on his first day at a Resolute Forest factory in North Carolina, suffocating on toxic vapor while cleaning a tank; and Daniel Collazo Torres, 28, was killed at a Nestle-owned Tribe Mediterranean Foods plant in Massachusetts when he was crushed to death in a hummus grinder. In all of these cases, OSHA found that the plant had not properly trained temporary employees on safety procedures.

The evidence is clear that temporary workers face increased risk of injury as compared to permanent workers in similar conditions, as workers fall through the cracks when neither their worksite employer nor the temp agency take responsibility. As former OSHA director David Michaels has said, employers often don’t provide the proper training to temporary employees. As a result, OSHA has seen “just ghastly situations.”

The new law in Illinois will require worksite employers to inform workers of the types of protective equipment, protective clothing, and safety training that are required on the job.

Discrimination

Temp agencies often provide a backdoor way for companies to unlawfully discriminate in hiring. An investigation of temp agencies in Illinois found that worksite employers and their temp agencies discriminated against black and female job applicants.

Many companies would instruct temp agencies, sometimes in coded language, not to send black workers. As a result, many black workers would wait at agencies for jobs that never came—or were only sent to the worst worksites. One black worker described being sent to a job where a supervisor picked all the Latinos and sent all the black workers back to the agency.

The new law will require temp agencies to file a report with the Illinois Department of Labor showing statistics on the race and gender of temp workers they hire. The department will combine the data, without naming individual temp agencies, and make the information available to the public.

Wage Violations and Low Pay

Wage theft is rampant in the low wage industries where temp jobs are concentrated. Workers report not being paid the proper minimum wage, being forced to wait unpaid for many hours before being assigned to a job, and having wages deducted for things like buses from the temp agency or background checks. In these fractured employment structures, workers are often unclear “who’s the boss”—when they allege violations, both the temp agency and the company point the finger at each other, leaving the worker holding the bag.

The new law will require that if agencies provide transportation to the job site, they must also provide transportation back. Agencies are also not permitted to charge workers for background checks, drug tests, and credit checks—the types of deductions that can make it even more difficult to get by on a small paycheck.

Perma-Temping

The new law also requires that when a permanent position opens, the company attempt to place temporary employees who are performing that work into the position. Many workers find themselves in a situation of “perma-temping”—one worker, speaking in support of the Illinois law, said that he had been a temp for 10 years and had never been offered a permanent job.

Temporary work is the new norm—and it’s not temporary for most workers. Fully 2.8 million Americans get their jobs through staffing companies—the highest number ever, and still growing. After the Great Recession, the temporary staffing sector exploded, growing 41 percent in four years, compared to 6 percent job growth overall. In Illinois and across the nation, the warehouse and manufacturing industries have given rise to “temp towns,” or areas where a high concentration of companies use temporary and staffing firms to hire their workers. In Kane County, Illinois, for example, one in every 14 workers is a temporary worker.

A NELP nationwide poll shows that a large majority of voters think the shift to subcontracting—which includes temporary staffing arrangements—is a bad thing, and they want their lawmakers to address it. NELP congratulates the advocates involved in moving this legislation and is thrilled to have supported the efforts of the Chicago Workers Collaborative in advocating for workers in Illinois. As companies’ use of temporary and staffing agencies continues to grow, it is imperative that policymakers across the country follow the lead of their peers in Illinois and pass legislation ensuring that companies take responsibility for their workers.


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