Helping Precarious Workers in New Jersey

By Daniel Ulloa

We are living in an age where employers increasingly no longer wish to worry about having a long-term, permanent workforce. Corporations feel they can downsize their employees and eliminate the security they provide in favor of a lean operation where workers are only employed on a project by project basis.   

This is becoming the new normal. 

Many of these workers are being classified incorrectly as 1099 independent contractors rather than permanent, full-time employees. This is especially widespread in the construction and trucking industries and among Information Technology (IT) and creative professionals.  

1099 workers do not have full-time jobs nor paid time off, health benefits, retirement plans, and the sense of security that goes along with them. Moreover, they do not accumulate money for unemployment benefits in the manner that direct hire employees do nor are they eligible for worker’s compensation and overtime. 

For those seeking stability, this is quite an unfortunate trend. The lack of stability leaves workers unable to plan long-term. Taxes also become exceedingly complicated when you have multiple employees throughout the year. 

And since there are stretches of time when precarious workers are not working, these issues become especially pressing for them. 

New Jersey does have a standard in place to determine whether a worker is properly classified. If an employer exercises a great deal of control over the conditions under which a worker operates, the service the worker provides is on worksite premises or not usual to the company’s normal business, and the individual cannot continue their business if their contract with the company is terminated, then the worker has been misclassified.  

Governor Murphy has already taken a great step forward in enforcing these standards by the creation of his “Task Force on Employee Misclassification” which was designed to address these issues, especially in the construction industry. And while this will not solve the problem, it does put the state on the right path.  

Hollywood production workers perform what seem to be temp jobs which normally are low-paying and do not come with benefits. However, while these professionals hold jobs temporarily, they do earn healthy salaries and receive benefits because they have a third party which administers benefit plans and negotiates on their behalf in stark contrast to most workers who hold temp jobs. 

We can perhaps utilize this model to assist other workers who might have several employers in a year. 

If workers had access to a third party that could take care of their benefits which employers could pay into while they are employed, then precarity would not be such a serious issue 

A thirdparty non-profit could manage a portable benefits system that a company who wished to use their talent would pay into for the duration of the worker’s employment.  

It could also possibly provide other benefits to a worker such as assisting in finding positions and providing other resources. 

Senator Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) is currently sponsoring a bill, S-67, Establishes system for portable benefits for workers who provide services to consumers through contracting agent, which would create a portable benefit model in this manner that would immensely benefit precarious workers.  

A companion bill, A-4705, is being sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington).  

While this bill would not wholly resolve the issue, it would be a great step in the right direction to decrease the precarious nature of workers. 

If this were to move forward, employers might complain about how tyrannical it would be for them to comply and how it would eat into their profit margins. But they are perfectly happy to act as petty dictators that provide no stability in the lives of their employees. They would say this is their prerogative as employers and if workers don’t like it, they are free to quit. 

Yet in a state as expensive as ours run for by anti-labor administration for eight years, they hardly have such “freedom”. 

Now, however, we have the opportunity to move New Jersey forward to the benefit of the many individuals who live and work here. I therefore urge the legislature pass this bill and for Governor Murphy to sign it into law.

Daniel Ulloa is President of the American Workforce Association, a community organization dedicated to educating precarious workers and helping them improve their economic circumstances. He also serves as Vice President of Communications for the Latino Action Network.  

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