I-Team: Temp Agencies Stiff Employees, Face Fines

A hard day’s work deserves a full day’s pay, but some temp companies are failing to pay laborers for hours -- and sometimes full shifts – spent at work. 
An I-Team review of enforcement actions by the New Jersey Department of Labor shows temp labor firms have been hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for wage violations in the last two years.
Some of the biggest penalties were pinned on True Blue, the company that owns the brand Labor Ready. 
According to assessments levied by state regulators, Labor Ready racked up more than $200,000 in fines for failing to pay proper wages on projects, including a student housing development at Rowan University, a public college in Glassboro, N.J.
By email, Stacey Burke, a spokeswoman for True Blue, said the temp firm believed the fines had been tabled.  
She said it was the first time the firm had heard that Department of Labor attorneys were still considering the legal issues.
According to the True Blue statement, a labor department investigator said Labor Ready has “nothing outstanding” and that the temp company is “very cooperative.”
The I-Team contacted the New Jersey Department of Labor and got a different story.
"The case has not been dismissed, nor has it been appealed," said Kerri Gatling, a Department of Labor spokeswoman.
Gatling added that Labor Ready has contested the student housing assessment and regulators are still considering the case.
True Blue is one of many temp agencies accused of wage violations since 2010.  The I-Team found other firms facing penalties for failing to pay minimum wage, failing to pay overtime and for making illegal deductions from workers' paychecks.
Charles Lee, a former security guard from Staten Island, is seeking back pay from a temp labor company called MDT Personnel. In December of last year, Lee worked cleaning up storm debris at NYU Medical Center in Manhattan. He says MDT failed to pay him for three of the 10 shifts he worked.
"I worked hard work and I should get all the pay," Lee said.
Early this year, most MDT offices were purchased by True Blue. 
Burke says the new merged company does not include the office that hired Lee and is not responsible for past MDT liabilities.
"This is MDT’s issue," Burke said. "We have no obligation for issues that occurred prior to the acquisition."
The Queens MDT office that recruited Lee has since been closed down.  I-Team phone calls and emails to other MDT offices and representatives were not returned.
Michael Grabell, an investigative reporter for ProPublica, has investigated temp agencies across the country and says temp jobs account for an increasing share of the economy but abuses are common. A frequent complaint is that workers are pressured to pay for unsafe transportation to work sites.
“I’ve even heard stories of workers being told to lie on the floor between the bench seats where the workers would normally put their feet,” Grabell said.  “One worker in Illinois described it as ‘we’re like herd animals or goats.’”
Last May during an unseasonably hot spell, a True Blue worker temping for a garbage collection company died of complications from heat exhaustion. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined True Blue $7,000 and forced the firm to institute a policy to keep laborers hydrated.
"We are all still deeply saddened by his death," Burke said.
True Blue now provides bottled water to employees.
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