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

New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of temp workers in the country. Many of them staff huge warehouses that process consumer products shipped into the bustling Port of Newark.

But there’s a grim underbelly of the industry, summed up in a special report by NJ Advance Media in three D’s: “death, discrimination and despair.”

The front page of the The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s biggest daily newspaper, showed its special report on the temp industry on Sept. 18.Credit: NJ Advance Media

With assistance by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, NJ Advance Media spoke with dozens of temp workers, recruiters, activists and officials to detail the many tribulations of this “invisible workforce.”

There are unlicensed agencies, reporter Kelly Heyboer found, operating in apparent violation of New Jersey state law.

There are deaths, like the temp worker who was crushed in a conveyer belt at an Amazon fulfillment center.

And there are undocumented immigrants eking out a precarious livelihood. Heyboer and her colleagues chronicled the life of 65-year-old Rafael Sanchez, who lives in a cramped garage and works on a factory assembly line as a temp worker.

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With help from Reveal, Heyboer also documented allegations of temp agencies hiring based on race and sex, part of a nationwide discrimination problem in the temp industry.

Some agencies even post signs advertising jobs specifically for men or women. Women are often paid less and face sexual harassment.

New Jersey-based Lyneer Staffing Solutions “recruited, hired, and sorted candidates based upon race,” according to a lawsuit from the company’s former director of human resources. The agency referred to black workers as “number 2s,” the lawsuit said.

A Lyneer recruiter stated in a separate lawsuit that her supervisor turned away black applicants in favor of Latinos and said, “We don’t want ghetto people.”

Lyneer’s president, Bryan Smith, told NJ Advance Media, “That is absolutely not our policy.” He said some employers have requested workers of a certain race, but that his company refused to do business with them.

The stories are available in Spanish online and in a special edition of The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s biggest daily newspaper.

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.