Advocates Say Mass. Temp Agencies Need Oversight

By Johanna Kaiser | June 20, 2011

Blue collar workers hired through temporary staffing agencies often aren’t paid fairly and have difficulties filing workers’ compensation, according to a new study by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Workers advocates say the problems are caused by documentation deficiencies and a lack of regulations holding firms responsible for their workers.

Temporary workers are paid through their staffing agency not the company for which they perform work, so the paperwork connecting them to the staffing agency can be lacking, said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, a workers’ rights advocacy group that conducted focus groups used in the study.

That allows some agencies to avoid paying overtime or workers’ compensation, Goldstein-Gelb said.

A paper trail will help officials enforce labor laws and ensure workers are being paid, she said.

“We need to give the regulators the tools they need to be able to monitor the industry and put paperwork in place,” she said.

But staffing industry representatives say labor laws already protect workers’ rights, and more regulation won’t force lawbreakers to change their practices.

“It’s already illegal not to pay people minimum wage; it’s already illegal not to pay workers’ compensation,” said Robert Siemering, president of the Massachusetts Staffing Association. “If agencies don’t provide all of these things, to me there are existent statutes to resolve the issue.”

Employment agencies employ 200,000 a year and 75,000 of those temporary workers transition to full-time work, according to Siemering.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimated there were 50,092 temporary employees in the state in December 2010, the last time data was collected.

Under current law, if a company charges workers for job placement, it must be licensed by the Department of Labor Standards and follow standards of conduct established by the department. Agencies that don’t charge workers for job placement, or only find temporary job placements, must register with the department annually, but most don’t have to be licensed.

Lawmakers are now considering legislation to increase regulations for temporary staffing agencies.

The new regulations would require all employment agencies to follow the same licensing protocols. It would also require agencies to provide low wage workers with written information about their job assignment, employer, and how to contact the Department of Occupational Safety.

Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry, D-Dorchester, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation will regulate “all employment agencies who seek to obtain jobs for applicants in the same manner while providing all temporary workers with basic workplace rights and information.”

The bill focuses on low wage workers because they tend to be from more vulnerable populations and work in more hazardous fields with little training, advocates said.

Siemering said firms are already required to file certificates of insurance and proof of workers’ compensation for all employees. They also must provide them with the proper information about their job assignment and compensation. The requirements aren’t different for blue collar and white collar employees, he said.

Increased regulations would raise employer costs and limit the ability of legitimate agencies to find jobs, he said.

“To the extent it’s harmful to the agencies, it is harmful to the few hundred thousand of this industry,” Siemering said.

Topics Agencies Legislation Workers' Compensation Massachusetts

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