At One Year Anniversary, Mass. Activists Hail Groundbreaking Law Protecting Temp Workers

January 30, 2014

One year after a groundbreaking temporary agency reform law went into effect in Massachusetts, advocates are hailing the law’s role in combating labor abuse and promoting transparency for the tens of thousands of temporary workers employed in the Commonwealth. At an event commemorating the anniversary of the law, advocates released a progress report, highlighting the laws’ achievements and impacts on the hard-working people who work in temporary jobs (click here to view the report).

“As a worker, I know what it is like to work through a temp agency where they do not tell you about your workers’ rights, and if you try to speak about your rights you are at risk of getting fired or being put on a black list,” said Diega Gonzales, a temporary worker and Chelsea Collaborative member. “Today, as temporary agency workers, we can ask freely about the details of the type of work we will be doing, and know who will be responsible to pay our wages.”

The law was enacted after temporary workers and their allies urged legislators to shine a light on temp agencies operating in the darkness of Massachusetts’s underground economy. For decades, a lack of legal oversight allowed temp employers to cheat workers out of millions of dollars in overtime and minimum wages. The law now requires the state’s temporary employment agencies to give each worker a written job order, providing critical information such as the name of their employer, wages and safety training required. It also prohibits certain fees and provides the Department of Labor Standards with the authority to carry out inspections and refer violators to the state’s Attorney General’s Office.

“The law was a huge victory, but it would be just words on a page were it not for the dedication and hard work of the state’s Department of Labor Standards, federal OSHA, the Attorney General, temporary workers and community groups who are making sure the law does exactly what it set out to do,” said MassCOSH Worker Center Organizer Mirna Montano and a co-coordinator of the Reform Employment Agency Law (REAL) Coalition, a diverse organization of over 40 faith groups, labor organizations, safety groups and advocacy organizations representing temporary workers.

The REAL Coalition issued a progress report highlighting the achievements of the past year, including:

Providing access to essential information for temporary workers:
The job order requirement and new oversight by the state’s Department of Labor Standards (DLS) have been critical in increasing the transparency of temporary agencies, and have benefited the many workers who are now receiving the job order. DLS inspections and reinspections have proven to be successful at achieving compliance.

Exposing violations
As a result of the law, workers are pursuing action to achieve their rights, and violations are coming to the surface. Many more workers are aware that they can pursue their rights and can identify violations.

Temp agency outreach
The state’s Department of Labor Standards (DLS) sent information about the law to the state’s licensed and registered agencies, as well as conducting inspections of temporary agencies to ensure compliance. Representatives from the REAL Coalition conducted educational visits numerous temporary agencies.

State enforcement
Of the 48 temporary staffing agencies inspected, 21 were not complying with the job order requirement. All agencies came into compliance upon reinspection.
More important than the numbers, advocates said, is the impact on workers who had reported being sent off to dangerous temporary 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 – intentional actions that had allowed employers to lie and cheat their workers.

“When our clients are armed with critical information about their job assignments, it makes a real difference in their ability to enforce their workplace rights,” said Rachel Smit, an employment lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). GBLS represented the REAL Coalition in the legislative campaign to pass the new law.

The need for access to workers compensation information was demonstrated in a recent analysis conducted by ProPublica. The organization’s recent investigations found that while workers compensation costs are going down for permanent employees, costs are increasing for workers employed in temporary jobs. More significantly, Massachusetts temps had a 36% percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps.