Temp workers' rights bill before Senate after 123-28 House vote

A bill that would require temporary worker placement agencies to provide workers with a basic statement of benefits to protect against abuses sits before the Senate after the House passed the bill 123-28 on Wednesday.

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry said the bill was a whittled-down, simpler version of legislation that has been pushed for years on Beacon Hill, and was the result of a year of sit-down negotiations with stakeholders.

The bill would require labor agencies to provide their temporary workers with a single-page form clearly informing them of their wages, expected hours and benefits, such as worker’s compensation.

Forry and Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera argued the bill would provide protections for a class of workers who often stand on a street corner every morning waiting for a van to pick them up and bring them to a job where they don’t know what they’ll be doing, how much they’ll get paid, how they’ll get or what happens if they get hurt on the job.

House Republicans, however, argued that the bill added an unnecessary layer of regulation.

Rep. George Peterson, of Grafton, called the employers who take advantage of day laborers and withhold wages “scum,” but suggested what they are doing is already illegal and should be enforced by the Patrick administration and the Attorney General’s office.

“I know the chairwoman has put a tremendous amount of work into this bill and has changed it drastically since day one, but it still comes down to let's enforce the laws. Let's not set up a new regulatory structure that will put additional burdens on businesses that are doing the right thing, and let's go after those that aren't doing the right thing and protect these temporary workers. We have the laws to do that now. If we can't enforce the rules and regulations and laws we have now, do you think we're going to be able to enforce this? I don't think so,” Peterson said.

Rep. Jay Barrows said many of the workers held out as examples of those being abused are probably paid illegally under the table, and that a new law would not do anything to bring that segment of the economy above ground.

“Let’s not create another law because it makes us feel good,” Barrows said.

Rep. Denise Provost said she has been approached by constituents taken advantage of by labor agencies, and she said the lack of documentation makes it near impossible for prosecutors to pursue wage violation cases because the identity of the employer is often unclear.

Under the bill, professional staffing agencies would be exempt.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO called the temporary workers right-to-know bill (H 4304) one of its top priorities this session. “For temp workers, finally getting protections for fair pay, a safe work environment, and the most basic of information about their job is not a lot to ask this session,” Tim Sullivan, AFL-CIO legislative director, said in a statement.