Legislation by Illinois Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Champaign, protecting temp workers from discrimination has been signed by the state's governor. Credit: Seth Perlman/Associated Press

Last year, Illinois Rep. Carol Ammons was raring for a fight with the temp industry.

“The industry is exploiting Latino workers, black workers, white workers,” the Democratic lawmaker told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. “The goal now is to expose the exploiter.”

After slogging it out in Springfield, Ammons now has something to show for her efforts. On Friday, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed her legislation to strengthen protections for temp workers and address systemic discrimination in the industry.

“I think the workers feel that the elected officials in Illinois heard their voices and heard that this is an issue that affects so many people,” said Tim Bell, executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, who helped craft the legislation. “Something has to be done to provide workers with more protections when they’re in these vulnerable, precarious jobs.”

A 2016 Reveal investigation found rampant discrimination based on sex and race in Illinois. It also detailed how the state’s temp industry killed an earlier reform effort. Bell credited the investigation with helping change people’s minds.

“The Reveal story was critical because there’s no doubt that the industry was in complete denial about the existence of discrimination,” he said.

The new law requires temp agencies to file a report with the Illinois Department of Labor showing statistics on the race and gender of temp workers they hire. The department will combine the data and make it available without naming individual agencies.

Temp agencies in Illinois already were required to collect that information, but Reveal found that the rule wasn’t always being followed or enforced. Bell hopes the new requirement will make temp agencies think twice before fulfilling employers’ requests for workers of a certain race or gender.

The original bill included an aggressive wish list of reforms but was pared back after negotiations with industry representatives and legislative hearings. The law’s other provisions require temp agencies to:

  • Notify workers of the kind of protective clothing, gear and training they will need.
  • Bring workers back from job sites if they provide transportation to the job. Often, temp agency vans take workers to jobs far from home, but leave them to get back on their own.
  • Stop charging workers for credit reports, criminal background checks and drug tests.
  • “Attempt” to place temp workers into permanent positions when they open up. Otherwise, workers often toil for years as perma-temps, without benefits, seniority, time off or job security.

“The legislation has given the temp agencies a chance to show that they’re actually going to follow through on that,” Bell said. “If it’s not done, then there will need to be stronger language and some kind of consequences.”

Dan Shomon, a lobbyist for a state temp industry alliance, wrote in an email: “‎The Staffing Services Association of Illinois looks forward to continuing to work with the Illinois General Assembly to protect the rights of our employees – permanent and temporary – and also create more job opportunities across the state.”

Editor’s note: The Chicago Workers’ Collaborative receives funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which also provides support for The Center for Investigative Reporting. Editorial decisions are made independent of any fundings.

Will Evans can be reached at wevans@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @willCIR

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Will Evans was a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting prompted government investigations, legislation, reforms and prosecutions. A series on working conditions at Amazon warehouses was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and won a Gerald Loeb Award. His work has also won multiple Investigative Reporters and Editors Awards, including for a series on safety problems at Tesla. Other investigations exposed secret spying at Uber, illegal discrimination in the temp industry and rampant fraud in California's drug rehab system for the poor. Prior to joining The Center for Investigative Reporting in 2005, Evans was a reporter at The Sacramento Bee.