Federal Legislation Would Ensure Equal Pay for Temp Workers and Curb Industry Abuses

Washington, DC—Federal legislation requiring equal pay for equal work and other basic rights for workers in the temporary staffing industry was introduced in the House late yesterday by Reps. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts and Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri. The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020 goes a long way toward eliminating temp workers’ second-tier status and demanding transparency and accountability from temp agencies and the corporations that rely on temp labor.

“Regardless of how a business structures its relationship with its workers, work should be a place where everyone is treated equitably and with respect,” said Laura Padin, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “For decades, however, corporations have sought to create categories of workers that are excluded from these basic principles, in order to rid themselves of obligations to the workers who are central to the success of their business. This important legislation represents a first step toward change.”

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Three million workers are employed in the temporary staffing industry in the United States. They often work with and alongside a company’s direct employees, doing the same work as permanent workers but for less pay, nearly non-existent benefits, and no job security. Structural racism has segregated many Black and Latinx workers into the most poorly paid, physically taxing temp work in industries like logistics and manufacturing, which has exacerbated the wealth gap for communities of color.

“So-called ‘temps’ are often on the job for years, stuck between staffing agencies and worksite employers who deflect responsibility for each other’s unfair, unsafe, or illegal working conditions,” said Dave DeSario, director of Temp Worker Justice. “Temp agencies profit by keeping workforces divided, taking a cut of each temp worker’s pay for every hour they’re on the job, and crippling the bargaining power of the permanent workers beside them. This groundbreaking bill finally holds temporary staffing companies and their clients accountable, to the benefit of all working people.”

“The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020 will provide much needed oversight to hold employers accountable and improve workplace conditions,” said Jaribu Hill, executive director of the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights. “The Act will address longstanding abuses suffered by thousands of low-wage Mississippi workers, who are classified as temporary workers. These workers are forced to work in unsafe conditions, denied a living wage and the benefits of full employment. Each day, they are forced to trade their dignity and safety for a paycheck.”

“Temp agencies rely heavily on Latinx immigrants, some of who are undocumented, to provide back-breaking work at poverty wages in warehouses throughout New Jersey,” said Reynalda Cruz, organizer with New Labor. “We need a strong law that regulates the temp agencies so they stop abusing workers. This bill will give temp workers the tools and leverage they need to improve their workplaces.”

The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020 requires:

  • equal pay for equal work—meaning that temp workers must be paid the same as permanent workers at the worksite corporation’s business performing similar work;
  • transparency about the terms and conditions of temp workers’ assignments, including disclosing the difference between a temp worker’s wage rate and the temp agency’s billing rate;
  • health and safety training for all temp workers to reduce hazards on the job;
  • temp agencies to register with the Department of Labor and record information about their workforce, including the race and gender of their workers and the percentage of temp workers who transition to permanent positions, which will shine a light on discrimination, occupational segregation, and other exploitative practices like “perma-temping”; and
  • a ban on non-compete agreements and limits on conversion fees, which will increase temp workers’ opportunities to transition to permanent, stable employment.

“The coronavirus has shined a bright light on the inequities and abuses temps suffer at work, and the poverty pay they receive,” said Tim Bell, executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative. “This bill is about temp jobs leading to life-sustaining permanent work for all those workers who are being treated as second class citizens; it’s about equal pay, equal rights and economic security for millions of families.”

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