Imagine working somewhere for more than 15 years only to be arbitrarily laid off out of nowhere, with no recourse to regain your previous job and benefits. In a matter of hours, your family’s livelihood is in jeopardy, and the most gut-wrenching part is that you have no legal right to keep the position you have held for years. This scenario is the unfortunate reality for many, and most recently, for a group of custodial workers within my legislative district.
These workers — one of them a pregnant mother— lost their jobs, salaries and benefits suddenly and unexpectedly. The union 32BJ SEIU pursued a National Labor Relations Board case. As a result, after a yearlong fight during which one of the workers died, the displaced 26 workers ultimately won. It resulted in a settlement that included immediate reinstatement to their jobs, more than $400,000 in back pay and reimbursement of medical expenses that workers incurred due to the loss of their job and health insurance. To this end, all the suffering was unnecessary.
Statewide, workers employed by building-service contractors have no legal right to keep their jobs if the contractor changes and the incoming contractor decides not to retain the existing workforce. Worker retention laws are critical because they provide stability and job security for workers who could be negatively affected by changes in business operation or ownership. These laws already exist in 25 localities, including Los Angeles, New York City and Connecticut. Nationally, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14055 in November 2021, which requires companies that win government service contracts to retain qualified workers during the transfer of contracts.
But here in New Jersey, only Hoboken and Newark have independent worker retention laws. That is why I authored a proposal, state Senate Bill 2389, that would instate a similar policy and require incoming contractors to retain the incumbent workforce for 90 days unless there is a just cause for termination. Through this period, the workers would be able to demonstrate their capabilities and worth, while ensuring service continuity.
The legislation would put employment protections in place for service employees and promote transparency during changes of operation or ownership. The proposal would require any employer that enters into a service contract or subcontract with service employees to undertake certain proactive measures to protect workers in the event of a transfer of a service contract. The bill also would require employers to provide written notice to workers at least 15 days before the termination of any service contract.
Service employees are essential workers in our schools and institutions. They deserve to feel a sense of safety and job stability. This legislation ensures that service employees are informed and protected and holds contractors accountable during changes in operation.
I look forward to working with my colleagues and the governor to advance this legislation to protect these vulnerable workers. As the economy continues to recover, employment protection measures are more crucial than ever.