CA passes bill to protect perma-temps

The California Legislature recently passed a bill designed to curb some of the abuses that temporary workers face on the job. AB 1897, introduced by Assembly Member Roger Hernandez, holds company’s that use temporary staffing agencies accountable for worker abuses committed by those agencies.

The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who must sign the bill before it becomes effective.

Hernandez said that the bill will make it harder for employers who rely on temporary labor to avoid responsibility for wage theft and other abuses.

“Currently, unscrupulous employers are utilizing the subcontracted model commonly known as ‘perma-temps’ to avoid accountability in the workplace,” said Hernandez.” Many times, the employer and the staffing agencies are able to avoid responsibility to the worker, leaving the worker without any rights to hold either party accountable if a labor violation arises.”

Hernandez also said that the law was needed because the use of temporary work has become more common in recent years, and temporary workers face distinct challenges.

“While subcontracting is not new, this employment model has become more and more prevalent in a number of industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, and blue-collar sectors, “said Hernandez. “This ‘subcontracted economy’ has led employers to rely on temporary workers who increasingly face lower wages, fewer benefits, and less job security.

Hernandez added that temporary workers are also more prone to wage theft.

The subcontracted economy has grown substantially, not just in California, but across the US.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) in a recent report finds that 2.8 million US workers are temporary workers, more than double the number in the 1990s.

NELP also says that temporary work has changed. At one time, most temporary jobs were clerical jobs, but today a temporary worker is more likely to work in the manufacturing or material moving industries.

Latino and African-American workers are over represented in the temporary workforce. While together they comprise 27 percent of the US workforce, 40 percent of temporary workers are either Latino or African-American.

Many of these temporary workers are perma-temps–that is, they may be classified as temporary workers, but they work steadily for one employer over an extended period of time.

According to NELP, temporary workers may work side-by-side with permanent workers, but their pay is usually much less than their permanent counterparts.

The median average hourly wage for temporary workers is $12.40 and hour; the median average for permanent workers is $15.84 an hour, a 22 percent differential.

Pressure to keep labor costs down can lead temporary staffing agencies to cut corners. NELP cites as one example the experience of some Massachusetts temporary workers  employed at a company called Fulfillment America.

When the temporary workers sued their temporary agency for not paying overtime, the agency defended itself by saying that the payments it received from Fulfillment were so low that the agency couldn’t afford to pay overtime.

Some companies use temporary staffing companies to avoid complying with state and federal labor laws, but AB 1897 will hold them accountable for the treatment of workers hired through temporary staffing agencies.

One case in point is Taylor Farms in Tracy, California where about 400 of the 900 workers are temporary workers.

These workers are technically employed by two temporary agencies–Slingshot and Abel Mendoza. While they do much of the same work as regular full-time employees they are paid $2.50 less than their full-time counterparts at another Tracy Farms plant in Salinas, where the workers belong to the Teamsters. They also have no health insurance or pension plan.

When the temps joined the Teamster organizing campaign at the Tracy plant they were harassed and intimidated.

The Teamsters said that Taylor Farms was the poster child for the campaign that led to the passage of AB 1897 and praised its passage.

“We are one step closer to preventing companies from engaging in a 21st century scam by claiming the men and women who do their work are not really employees but ‘temporary’ workers for labor contractors or agencies,” said James Hoffa, Teamster general president after learning of the passages of AB 1897. “This corporate shell game allows corporations to deny responsibility for basic worker rights like pay, benefits, and working conditions. Holding a corporation accountable for violations on its shop floor is an important step in the right direction.”

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