Under New Ownership: NJ Bill Would Protect Janitors, 'Service Workers'

A proposed law would provide "stability and security" for thousands of NJ workers and their families, supporters say. Critics say otherwise.

NEW JERSEY — Janitors, security staff, porters, concierges and handypersons across New Jersey would be some of the workers who stand to get better job protections under a proposed state law, its supporters say.

On Thursday, dozens of labor advocates rallied at the Statehouse in Trenton with 3,000 postcards in support of a bill that’s been dubbed “the Worker Retention Law.”

The proposed law, S-2389, would prevent New Jersey employers from firing or laying off a wide range of “service workers” without just cause for three months when ownership changes hands. The affected employees would include maintenance/security staff in apartment buildings, airport workers, school food workers and others.

According to 32BJ SEIU, a labor union supporting the bill, New Jersey workers employed by building-service contractors currently have no legal right to keep their jobs if the contractor changes and the incoming contractor decides not to retain the existing workforce.

The bill would provide stability and security for thousands of people and their families, the union says.

Similar laws exist in 25 states and municipalities, including Los Angeles, Connecticut and New York City. Labor advocates in New Jersey have successfully passed worker retention laws in Hoboken and Newark – but now they’re looking to get one rolled out on the state level.

“When there is a sudden change in management, the workers most directly impacted by that development should not be treated as an afterthought,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President and NJ State Director Kevin Brown said.

“It’s past time that the same New Jerseyans who proved essential to battling the pandemic and our economic recovery see their lives upended due to a decision they had no role in making,” Brown added.

Sen. Troy Singleton, one of the bill’s sponsors, said that it’s important to make sure service workers have “job stability” – even when management changes.

“We are coming off of the heels of a pandemic that catalyzed mass layoffs across the board,” Singleton said. “This bill will protect employees and their jobs, easing any anxiety that may arise when ownership changes, and will lay out the provisions that will be afforded to service employees.”

A companion bill, A-4682, has been introduced in the state Assembly; it advanced from that chamber’s labor committee in December.

“Passing these historic labor protections will give vital job security to thousands of working-class families, expanding access to the American dream,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, another primary sponsor of the proposed law.

Not everyone has agreed, however.

Critics such as the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA) have argued that the bill would restrict an employer’s ability to make “sound business decisions” with their service contracts, and may not “pass legal muster.” In addition, it would stand in direct conflict with New Jersey’s status as an at-will employment state, the group charged.

The NJBIA also pointed out that the state has recently passed other laws mandating the retention of employees in both the hotel and health care industries.

In August, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that offers similar protections for health care workers, who are now guaranteed at least four months of continued employment if a hospital or nursing home changes ownership. 

“This unsettling trend adds to New Jersey’s reputation of being overly regulated and an unfriendly place to do business,” NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Alexis Bailey told the Assembly Labor Committee in written testimony last month.

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