Illinois Lawmaker Proposes Bill to Increase Temporary Worker Protections

Bill would improve safety protections, track how many temporary workers move into permanent jobs

Illinois Lawmaker Proposes Bill to Increase Temporary Worker Protections
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January 26, 2017

A new bill proposed by a lawmaker in Illinois will, if passed, increase protections for the ever-increasing number of temporary workers.

One catalyst of the bill was ProPublica's 2013 investigation revealing the instability and dangers experienced by temp works across the country. The bill is being proposed just as President Trump is starting to take action on the economic concerns that played a role in his election.

So far, the president's economic plans have focused on trade deals, and he has not said much about the other factors that impact blue-collar workers, such as the increase in temporary and contract jobs. Andrew Puzder, Trump's labor secretary nominee, has joined others leading the new administration's transition in opposing the regulation of the "gig" economy, the economy based on workers who move from one "gig" or job to another. He is also against policies that would hold large employers—such as fast food restaurants—responsible for what happens to their temp and franchise workers.

However, evidence shows that some of the country's economic woes are being caused by workers' troubles in finding permanent, full-time work at the same time that the unemployment rate has fallen to historic lows. A 2016 study found that almost all the net employment growth experienced in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015 happened in alternative employment arrangements, such as contract, temporary, and on-call jobs. And the number of people who want a full-time job but can find only a part-time position is still even higher than it was before the recession. In addition, for those living in urban areas, it is often extremely hard to find a job at a factory or warehouse without going through a temp agency.

ProPublica discovered that temporary workers are at a far higher risk of getting hurt while working than regular workers. It also found that some temporary workers work for a number of years for the same company for less pay without being hired full time.

The new Illinois bill, known as the Responsible Job Creation Act, would require companies to pay temporary workers the same wages and benefits as the employees that the company hired directly. Although this is a common policy in the developed world, it is unheard of in the United States. Illinois is one of the few states with laws protecting temporary workers: when ProPublica performed an analysis of international economic data, it found that the United States's labor protections for temp workers are some of the weakest among major world economies.

"Much of the economy is being outsourced and workers' income is unstable," said Tim Bell, director of the Chicago Workers' Collaborative. "What this bill does is it tries to increase the incentive for workers to be hired directly by companies."

The bill is being sponsored by Representative Carol Ammons. It would require more safety requirements for temp agencies as well as the companies that are their clients, and the agencies would also have to track the number of workers who go from temporary to permanent jobs every year. Although the staffing industry frequently promotes temp work as a means for companies to use to try out new employees and for workers with little experience to get their foot in the door, labor advocates claim that the agencies charge steep fees to companies who want to hire their temporary workers. This, they say, discourages companies from creating full-time jobs.

"People need permanent jobs," Ammons said. "They need stability and they need essential security for their families."

The bill would also require agencies to track the race, gender, and ethnicity of their applicants. Investigative news organization Reveal found last year that companies sometimes ask agencies to filter African Americans out when screening for potential workers or to use gender as the basis for assigning jobs. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced a new focus last fall on discrimination against temporary workers, though it is not clear whether this focus will continue under Trump.

One of the top labor priorities of the Obama administration was to crack down on companies that misclassify their employees as independent contractors and to hold big businesses responsible for the pay that their subcontractors and franchise employees receive and the conditions in which they work. Administration staffers talked in many different speeches about the urgent need to address what one senior labor official labelled the "fissured workplace."

Trump's nominee, however, seems to have different opinions. Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, parent company of the Hardee's and Carl's Jr. fast food chains. He has criticized a decision made by the National Labor Relations Board that could make the McDonald's chain responsible for its franchise restaurants' wage violations as well as making it easier for the brand's workers to unionize.

Temp workers have continued to experience horrible accidents even as Obama's Occupational Safety and Health Administration highlighted the dangers they face. Twenty-year-old Regina Elsea was crushed to death in June by a robot at an Alabama Kia and Hyundai auto parts supplier, and 21-year-old Day Davis was crushed to death at Florida Bacardi bottling plant in 2010. Davis had been working for 90 minutes on his first day at his very first job.

The new bill may or may not pass the Illinois legislature. Though many lawmakers support policies that help workers and unions, a 2015 bill focusing on discrimination against temp workers died, and the leaders of the legislature have been fighting with Governor Bruce Rauner over the budget for a long time.

Fredy Amador is a 34-year-old temporary worker from Waukegan, Illinois, who hopes that Trump will go for policies encouraging full-time work. According to Amador, who worked in a popcorn factory's quality control lab for five years, said that the factory's employees made almost twice as much as he did.

"We have to do it this way," he said, "because a lot of companies don't want to hire anyone right now because they have all these temp agencies around."