New law gives 640K Illinois ‘permatemp’ workers a massive raise
Gov. Pritzger signed a bill that aids many thousands of temp workers in many fields.

CHICAGO—Some 640,000 temporary workers in Illinois are immediately in line for average hourly raises of four dollars for long-term “permatemp” work. And their agencies won’t be able to force them to scab, either.

Those are just two of the impacts of the Temp Worker Fairness and Safety Act, which Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed on August 4. It took effect immediately. The law is the second such statute in the nation, after one in New Jersey.

“Permatemp” workers are some of the most exploited workers in the U.S. Their agencies contract them out to employers, who have them toil alongside regular workers performing the same jobs and the same working conditions, but earning a lot less than the permanent workers.

And because the agencies, not the employers who actually boss the workers on the job, pay the temps, they’re caught between a rock and a hard place when they try to organize. Doubly so if the employer tells the agency it wants the workers as strikebreakers, aka scabs.

The Chicago Workers Collective, Temp Worker Justice, and other worker advocates strongly pushed the legislation and gained state AFL-CIO backing.

“It has long been the reality that the most vulnerable workers are also the least protected. The Temp Worker Fairness & Safety Act will change that by ensuring temporary workers employed through staffing agencies receive the same rights and protections as any other worker,” said Workers Collective Executive Director Jose Frausto. “This is a victory for all workers that was made possible by years of organizing by temp workers.”

Pritzker’s signature—a foregone conclusion after the State Senate and State Assembly overwhelmingly passed it in May—“thrilled” state AFL-CIO President Tim Drea and not just because it declares temp workers can refuse to scab, and the agencies can’t punish them for it, without breaking the law.

The new law “restricts the practice of ‘permatemping’ where workers are kept in ‘’temporary’ assignments for years, restricting their access to union jobs and creating a downward pressure on wages and working conditions for all workers,” Drea explained.

Now, any temp on the job at least 90 calendar days must get equal pay for equal work, thus eliminating the dollar difference between permanent workers and permatemps, a Chicago Workers Collective fact sheet says. And the employer, via the agency, must add cash to a permatemp’s pay to cover the costs of any benefits a regular worker gets, such as health insurance.

It also “ensures all temp workers have the right to refuse a strikebreaking assignment without being retaliated against.” That includes banning temp agencies, in future assignments, from discriminating against workers who refuse to scab.

The new law, which advocates hope will be a model for other states, increases fines for temp agencies, which break any part of it. And it mandates improved safety and health standards for the temps, making the agencies responsible, too, the fact sheet says.

“The Illinois AFL-CIO was proud to stand in solidarity with temp workers to advance this critical piece of worker legislation that will benefit all workers across Illinois and set an example for other states to follow,” Drea said. There is no pending federal legislation to protect the temps.

“The expansion of the Day and Temporary Labor Services Act will bring an end to the hazardous workplace situations that many Black and Brown workers face,” said Senate Labor Committee Chair Robert Peters, D-Hyde Park-Kenwood-Woodlawn. “A new normal is coming.” He thanked the workers cooperative, the state labor federation, and State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez, D-Chicago, for creating “this new normal for a service sector that is often forgotten.”

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.