Nurses working together in hospital

The first bill of its kind in the US would mandate that employers pay temporary workers, on average, as much as regular, direct-hire employees who do the same or similar work. The temp workers, who include agency nurses, would get the cash equivalent of the benefits provided to the regular direct care employees under the New Jersey proposal.

Nursing home operators have wrestled more than other healthcare providers with nursing shortages and the rise of agency nurse use since the onset of the pandemic.

“We’ve only seen this kind of work structure grow and the pandemic has been a contributing factor to that, especially in healthcare where we’re seeing massive growth in temp staffing agencies,” Roberto Clack, executive director of Temp Worker Justice, told Bloomberg Law. “There’s a real need for the labor movement to do more about this and pass more legislation around the country.”

The bill also would open temp agencies and providers to the same lawsuits for workplace violations from temp workers as their full time staff counterparts can initiate.

The bill’s passage is not a foregone conclusion even though New Jersey has been a state friendly to workers, with laws providing high minimum wage, paid sick days, and paid family leave. The bill’s opponents, which include lobbyists like the American Staffing Association and New Jersey Business and Industry Association, say temp workers are well protected already and that the bill would make their use much more expensive.

Democrats in the US House pushed a bill covering equal pay for temp workers in 2020 but it failed to advance. There are temp worker protection laws in states like Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, and California but those have dealt primarily with information and safety. Most focus on blue-collar workers, but the need for the protections for white collar workers is rising.

“I haven’t seen a huge cry to protect professionals, clerical administrative folks, IT professionals,” Toby Malara, vice president of government relations for the American Staffing Association told Bloomberg Law. “If that increases over time, we’ll certainly sit down with folks to talk about something that addresses those concerns.”

The bill could be voted on Dec. 22 by the state senate. It passed once, but Gov. Phil Murphy (D) vetoed the bill in September, asking for a different version. The state Assembly passed through the revised bill but the Senate has postponed a vote twice because it didn’t have enough votes to pass.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” said Lou Kimmel, executive director of New Labor, a New Jersey workers rights organization.