Temping: Legislating Better Labor Standards

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington state and a candidate in the 2020 Democratic presidential contest, signed The Protecting Temporary Workers law recently. This law makes worksites safer for temporary employees, with Washington becoming the nation’s third state to pass legislation specifically to improve the labor standards for temporary workers.

The law will prevent hundreds of injuries on the job, according to Dave DeSario, who heads Temp Worker Justice in Washington, DC, a nonprofit that supports temporary workers and workers’ organizations seeking justice and fairness in the workplace. Washington state’s new law will also make it more difficult for staffing firms, e.g. temporary agencies, to create dangers for such employees via restoring accountability and increasing costs on employers that choose to ignore worksite safety.

Employers reduce necessary worksite safety for reasons of profits and market share generally. It is a systemic trend.

“The new law ends the finger-pointing blame game by establishing clear requirements for hazard analysis, training, documentation,” according to DeSario, “and communication between temp agencies and worksite employers. Its provisions are the strongest in the country to date.”

Washington state’s temp workers’ law is in part a response to research in peer-reviewed journals. Consider this from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. “Temporary workers had higher workers’ compensation claims rates than their permanent worker‐peers. In interviews, temporary workers reported a lower frequency of exposure to hazards. However, they also reported being less likely to be equipped to cope with hazards by such countermeasures as experience screening, safety training and task control.”

Typically, permanent workers enjoy the labor standards that their temporary peers lack. The fact that both groups of workers can and do labor alongside each other is a common employer practice.

Employers can and do sow division between employees, a move that increases the former’s control over the workplace. The “free market” depends on this unequal relationship between employers and employees.

What is next after the Evergreen State’s new temp law? “We’re hoping it helps revive pre-pandemic plans for something similar in Colorado,” DeSario said in an email, “and we’re planning a call with a couple key organizations in California. Colorado had some initial support from organized labor, which is key. California has several on-the-ground organized groups that might be able to get something done.”

Jora Trang is chief of staff and equity of Worksafe, a labor advocacy group based in Oakland, Calif. “Washington State’s new temp worker law creates an amazing model with hyper clear and protective language for temp workers for states like California to model similar laws,” she said via email. “This is exactly the kind of protection we want for our temp workers in California. We will be taking a close look at this new law to see how we can incorporate and strengthen it in California.”

We turn to the nation’s capital. On July 16, 2020, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) introduced The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020. It is the first federal bill to propose regulating temporary agencies in more than two decades, according to Temp Worker Justice. This House bill will cut race-to-the-bottom labor services subcontracting and guarantee temporary workers better standards, from equal pay for equal work to equal training for safer workplaces. Further, the bill will provide temporary workers a right to know all relevant data about work assignments and a real path to permanent work.

Prospects for The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020, face an uncertain fate in the Senate. There, Sen. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) will surely do everything that he can to kill this bill to help temporary workers.

For more information and to get involved, visit https://www.tempworkerjustice.org/ and https://worksafe.org/.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com