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.
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.”