For over six years, Mercedes Mendez worked 50- to 60-hour weeks at a Billerica packing company, but never received a penny of the thousands of dollars in overtime due to her. The temp agency that employed her laid responsibility on the packing company, claiming they didn’t pay the agency enough to foot the overtime, while the packing company argued it bore no responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime wages of the workers who labored at the plant.
“I know as workers, we have rights,” said Mendez. “We want to see a change.”
On July 21, the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards (DLS) held a public hearing in Boston on its proposed regulations under the Temporary Workers Right to Know Law. Temporary workers, labor representatives and other community members spoke of the importance of the law and the need to make the regulations as strong as possible for Mendez and the state’s most vulnerable temporary workers.
“The Temp Worker Right to Know Law was a major step forward when it was passed in late 2012 and we applaud our elected officials for passing it and DLS for enforcing it,” said Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH) Worker Center Organizer Mirna Montano. “However, we are now seeing how some bad actors are getting around the law.”
Montano said workers have come to her organization saying they have not been provided with the paper work they should have received, yet when MassCOSH contacts the agency, it says it has the information posted at the office. “When your workers only contact with the agency is the van that comes to pick them up, this can be an easy way to get around current regulations,” Montano noted.
Advocates like Montano stressed the need to close loop holes which allow unscrupulous temp agencies to keep their workers in the dark regarding wages, fees to be paid by workers and critical information on their rights as workers.
“My name is Flora and I’m a temporary worker,” said a temp worker at the hearing. “I’m currently working for a temp agency and I do not know the name of the temp agency I work for. We temp workers should have the right to know where we are going to be working at, what type of job we will be doing [and] the name of the company we are going to be working for.”
To help better protect this growing segment of low-wage temp workers, DLS has released draft regulations that will:
- Establish three terms for labor market staffing providers to include employment agencies, placement agencies and staffing agencies;
- Clearly establish how to categorize businesses into the above terms and itemize the obligations of each entity in terms of licensure or registration requirements;
- Outline the legal requirements for providing information to workers or job applicants
- Establish record-keeping requirements on the part of agencies; and
- Outline prohibited business practices.
Advocates also recommended DLS:
- Require agencies to post the notice of rights in vans used to transport workers and to give a copy of the state-created temp worker rights poster to each worker;
- Require staffing agencies to provide both the job order and the notice of rights poster to workers in their own language;
- Provide workers with the right to request and receive a copy of the original job order (and any changes to their job assignment), at any point in time.
Advocates stressed the need to ensure that temp agencies be brought out from the underground economy and be prevented from undercutting traditional employers.
“Temporary workers need to know about their rights and staffing agencies must provide both the worker’s job order and their notice of rights in their own language to reduce abuses and bring temporary staffing agencies out of the shadows,” said Richard Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, which represents 161 unions throughout Metropolitan Boston.
“It is very important that we temporary workers know where we are going to work and especially how many hours we will be working before we go,” testified a temp worker who introduced herself as Maria. “Because we are not only workers, we are mothers, we have children, we have responsibilities; we have lives outside of work.”
Adrian Ventura, executive director of the New Bedford-based CCT, noted how temporary agencies are finding new ways to avoid following the law that require the state to be even more vigilant.
“For us temp workers in New Bedford, unfortunately, we are finding that temp agencies are not following everything that the law says,” Ventura told the Department of Labor Standards. “We feel that temp agencies are creating new strategies, such as wage theft, and making new rules to avoid paying for vacation time. They are also changing their names - for example, the temp agency EDA recently changed their name to Superior Temp Agency. We are also seeing underground offices opening for a short period of time without offering any kind of information to workers.”
For Claudia, a temp worker who wished to use only her first name to prevent her employer from retaliating against her, the case for increased regulation is even more basic.
“This law is about treating us like human beings, we are humans and we deserve to be treated with dignity.”