Rafael Sanchez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant living in a garage in New Jersey, has been a temp worker for years. Credit: Andre Malok/ NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Private companies don’t usually call for stepped-up government oversight of their own industry.

But that’s what happened after an investigation of labor abuses in the New Jersey temp industry was published by The Star-Ledger newspaper.

At first, the state’s industry group, the New Jersey Staffing Alliance, said there wasn’t a problem. “We have to meet the standards, and I think as an industry we do,” a spokeswoman told reporter Kelly Heyboer for her original story.

Heyboer’s series found discrimination, low wages and dangerous working conditions.

Some temp agencies, she discovered, operate without a license. One allegedly screened out black workers. Female temps face sexual harassment and lower pay. Many workers are undocumented immigrants, often too scared to speak up about abuse.

After the stories, the industry group changed its stance. Facing calls for new state laws to address the problem, it released a letter pushing for increased fines and more funding and staff at state regulatory agencies.

“We agree that the report’s issues are important and need to be addressed in a collaborative, positive and constructive manner,” the letter said.

Reynalda Cruz removes a New Jersey temp agency window sign that reads, “Trabajo Para Mujeres,” or “Work for Women.” Cruz was a temp worker for many years before joining New Labor, a workers advocacy group.Credit: Zhengchen Luo for Reveal

Meanwhile, the state Division of Consumer Affairs launched an investigation into unlicensed temp agencies and fined one of them $10,500 – a direct result of the newspaper’s findings.

The Star-Ledger editorial board also called for lawmakers and regulators to take action: “Instead of looking the other way when companies rely on exploitative and illegal labor, the government needs to step in.”

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting provided support for the series, to build off our reporting into race and sex discrimination in the temp industry.

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

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Will Evans is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal, covering labor and tech. His reporting has 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 have 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. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.