New Jersey, Pass the Temporary Workers’ Bill of Rights

Make the Road gathers to hear Janet Caicedo.

So much was on the line in last week’s elections. I count myself as someone who could easily be disillusioned by politics, but I’m not.  I don’t have that luxury.  I’m the child of a single mother who works for a staffing agency. When I went to vote last week, I was thinking of my mother and her struggles as a temp worker.

My mother and I depend on her full-time temp job and my part-time retail job.  I’m a college student, and each day I get up early to drop my mom off at the temp agency in the early morning hours before I head to class.  Describe our situation to most New Jerseyans, and no matter which party they support, most of them would say that my mother and I are doing exactly the right thing: working hard and studying so that we can survive, and hopefully have a better life.  I’m confident that my studies will pay off, but I’m scared that my mother’s work never will.  I’m an adult now, but I’m still my mom’s kid.  Seeing her go through this hurts. Every single day.

My mom has had few other options.  She’s worked through staffing agencies for the last 12 years.  None of the jobs she’s been assigned to have been easy. She has never been offered permanent employment, despite knowing the jobs in and out.  Some jobs been very unsafe.  She knows her rights, and though she’s sweet and quiet, it’s her nature to speak up when something is going wrong.  But workers like her are made to know that raising an issue at work will only get a temp worker removed or fired, so she rarely complains.  This summer, when she was assigned to work in a hot warehouse moving heavy boxes for hours on end, her coworkers started saying they thought they might pass out.  Assuming the best, my mom agreed to be the one to talk to the warehouse supervisor about rotating her and the other women to some different work.  The supervisor sent all the temp workers home, and days later, my mom was out of a job.  This isn’t the first time.  Every time things seem to be going well, the other shoe drops, and we’re left with whatever she made last week to get by until she gets her next job.  This time we made it through.  Barely.

Warehouse work is tough work, but it’s a different kind of tough for temp workers like my mom.  She makes just over minimum wage, with no health benefits.  Temp workers often work side-to-side with direct-hire workers, doing exactly the same job, but because they aren’t employed directly, they don’t get raises and no matter how long they work at the same job, and they’ll never qualify for health benefits.  After paying for transportation to the job site from the agencies in unsafe, overcrowded vans, it’s not unusual for temp workers’ paychecks to add up to less than minimum wage.  My mom knows the law, but the practical truth is that now, for temp workers the law doesn’t exist; as it stands now, corporations use staffing agencies as a means to avoid accountability and standards.  On November 21st, our elected officials have a chance to make real change to this abusive status quo that traps families like mine, where we’re doing all the right things, in a cycle of instability and uncertainty.

As I said, I don’t have the luxury to be disillusioned by politics.  My mom and I feel the effects of decisions made by our elected officials every single day.   And so my mom and I are counting on our elected officials to put humanity over corporate money and politics.  This year, our State Senators have TWICE passed legislation that would guarantee the most basic rights for workers like my mom, but the Bill, A1474/S511, still faces one more vote in the Senate next Monday.  The last time we expected a vote, on October 17th, Senate leadership determined that the bill did not have enough support to pass due to some reservations from Democratic Senators that had previously voted in support.  On November 21st we need all of the Senators from the party that has, for longer than I’ve been alive, been the party of worker justice, to stand with temporary workers once again, vote yes, and pass the Temporary Workers Bill of Rights.  It will make all the difference for a hard-working family like mine.  The decision that the Senators have in their hands will mean that my mom and I either continue to live on the precipice, unsure if we can keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, or whether we can expect that through hard work we can have some basic stability and a starting point to be able to get ahead.  Senators, we’re counting on you.

Juliet Meneses is a college student at NJIT and the daughter of a temp worker.

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