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The Boston Globe

Business

Patrick signs law to protect temporary workers

Temporary staffing agencies in Massachusetts must provide day workers with such basic job information as rate of pay and job descriptions under a bill signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick on Monday.

The law, which goes into effect in January, also prohibits agencies from charging certain fees that could drive a worker’s pay below the minimum wage, including the cost of registering with the staffing agency or for performing a criminal record check. In addition, staffing agencies are required to reimburse any worker sent to a job only to find no work is available.

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“Thousands of Massachusetts workers are sent off to work by staffing agencies without any idea of where they are going, what work they will do, and what they will be paid,” Governor Patrick said in a statement. “This bill levels the playing field for all of our businesses while fulfilling our responsibility to make sure all of our workers are being treated fairly.”

There are nearly 100,000 day workers in the state, according to the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. The new law requires that staffing agencies provide each one with a “job order” that includes contact information for the employment agency, the employer, the Department of Labor Standards, and the workers compensation carrier; a description of the job; the pay rate and pay date; the daily starting and ending time; expected duration of the assignment; whether meals are provided; and details related to transportation costs and fees.

Staffing agencies do not have to provide job information to temporary workers who are doing secretarial, clerical, and administrative-type work — generally defined as “professionals.”

The State House signing drew an array of advocates, legislators, and workers, many of whom said they had long hoped for the protections now afforded them.

Adrian Ventura, a 38-year-old temporary worker who also helps run the New Bedford Workers Center, said the problems addressed by the new law were commonplace.

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In his nine years as a day laborer, he said, he experienced or witnessed abuses that included the denial of compensation to workers injured on the job, and being sent to a job without being told where he would be working.

“The temp agency would never tell us the name of the company we were working for or who owned it,” Ventura said through a translator. “Now with the legislation, we can bring those companies to light, out of the shadows.”

Labor advocates also celebrated the passage of the law. “Too often, workers in the low-wage sector of the temp industry suffer exploitation and abuse,” said Steven A. Tolman, Massachusetts AFL-CIO president, in a statement. “This bill will go a long way towards stopping that inhumane treatment.”

But Edward A. Lenz, senior vice president at the American Staffing Association, a trade group based in Alexandria, Va., questioned the need for the law. “There are already enough good employment laws; we just need better enforcement,” he said. “Businesses are already struggling with lots of rules and regulations.”

Lenz said that now that the measure has been signed into law, the association is “looking forward to working with the administration to help our members comply.”

The state Labor Department will issue the new regulations, and carry out inspections and investigations under the law.

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com. Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com.

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