Temp workers rights took a step forward last week with the passage of House Bill 4304 "The Temporary Workers' Right to Know Act" - sponsored by Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry (D - Dorchester) and Sen. Jack Hart (D - Boston) - into law by the Massachusetts legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick. Advocates from the Mass. Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, Community Labor United, Boston Workers Alliance and a host of other organizations did a great job of bursting through the longstanding State House log jam on bills that would benefit temp workers.
In this case, the workers being helped are mostly immigrants that toil ceaselessly in often-terrible conditions on assignment for fly-by-night day labor temp agencies all over the Commonwealth. Pretty much anyone can start such an agency, as they have been virtually unregulated heretofore. The new law requires temp agencies that provide manual laborers - who make up approximately one-third of (or roughly 25,000) Massachusetts temp workers - to provide written notice of the details of job assignments to all their workers, and conspicuously post important labor rights and workers compensation information at their offices.
Although innocuous-sounding on paper, these simple reforms will make it much easier for advocates and the relevant government officials to track abusive employers and bring them to justice. It will also make it easier for low-wage temp workers by providing a paper trail and clear information about who to contact in the event of violations of their basic labor rights on the job.
There's still a long road ahead to bring full labor protections to all temp workers in Massachusetts - and an even longer road to protect workers in all contingent labor arrangements - but Open Media Boston congratulates all the activists that worked on this new law. And we look forward to covering further steps towards these goals in the years to come.
Full Disclosure: Jason Pramas was a staff member (and eventually executive director) of the Mass. Campaign on Contingent Work between 1997 and 2004. A labor-community network that fought for temp and contingent worker justice, CCW was best known for helping local longtime Woolworth employees that were fired and replaced by contingent workers to become part of a successful multi-million dollar Equal Employment Opportunity Commission class action lawsuit. And for helping the Mass. Attorney General's Office to reform the national day labor temp agency Labor Ready's practice of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from their Mass. workforce by skimming the change on every paycheck cashed by their low-income workforce in semi-legal in-house "ATM machines" - knowing that many of their workers were unable to get bank accounts. He wrote a seminal report on the Mass. temp industry in that role, What's Wrong with Temp Work?: A Report on the Temp Industry in Massachusetts, and was among the leaders of several legislative and regulatory campaigns for temp and contingent worker justice in the Commonwealth. He was also a co-founder of the North American Alliance for Fair Employment, and was the lead author of its Temp Industry Code of Conduct.
Pramas is the Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston