Lawmakers Pass Democrats’ “Back To Work NJ Bill”

TRENTON – Lawmakers gave final legislative approval to a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a “Back to Work NJ” job creation and economic growth program on Thursday. The Senate passed the bill by a 24-13 vote; the Assembly approved the bill 47-32, along party lines, earlier this month.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a previous version of the bill, despite the success of a similar program in Georgia. Republicans do not believe that New Jersey can afford its cost.

“Gov. Christie still has the chance to finally do the right thing and join Democrats in helping put New Jerseyans back-to-work,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “This is an innovative program that will allow out-of-work New Jerseyans to develop the skills to stay in the workforce in the face of unemployment. It will help workers and businesses alike to jumpstart our economy and move our state forward.”

The “Back to Work NJ” program would pair unemployed workers with New Jersey businesses in a six-week training program.

The bill, S-3080/A-4332, will create a program based on the successful Georgia Work$ program. “Back to Work NJ” would allow companies looking to hire new employees to take on an unemployed state resident for up to six weeks of on-the-job training. During that time, the individual would be able to work up to 24 hours per week while continuing to receive unemployment compensation. Additionally the individual will receive workers’ compensation insurance through the state and would be eligible for up to a $100 stipend to help defray the costs of transportation or child care.

“Since many of the chronically unemployed are struggling to support their families during this economic crisis, training programs in new and in-demand fields, such as technology and green-energy jobs, are often out of the question,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex, Mercer). “‘The Back to Work NJ’ program will provide thousands of unemployed New Jersey residents, many who have been jobless for more than six months, an opportunity for on-the-job training to ramp up their skills and build their networks while they continue to look for long-term employment and collect their unemployment insurance.”

To be eligible to participate in the program, employers must be ready to immediately hire for a position in their companies, have the ability to provide training that meets the requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and be located within the state. Unemployed workers must be currently receiving unemployment benefits, have at least six weeks of state unemployment benefits remaining or at least six weeks of state or federal extensions of unemployment insurance remaining, and must currently reside in the state.

The bill would require all unemployed participants be treated as bona fide “trainees” as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Therefore, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development would be required to certify that all participating employers are meeting the following conditions:

  • The training is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction;
  • The training is for the benefit of the trainee;
  • The trainee does not displace a regular employee;
  • The trainee works under close observation;
  • The employer that provides the training gains no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainee, and may have its operation impeded on occasion;
  • The trainee is not entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  • The employer and the trainee understand that the trainee is not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development will monitor participating employers as well as unemployed trainees through site visits and the compilation of data including numbers and percentages of trainees hired into employment with participating employers. Participating employers will be disqualified from future participation in the program and be subject to penalties if they are determined to have a repeated pattern of using trainees as unpaid labor without hiring them as employees or fail to comply with program requirements.

According to the Georgia State Labor Department, the Georgia Work$ program has been deemed a huge success with more than 11,000 participating employers and having roughly 63 percent of unemployed participants finding permanent jobs within 90 days of completing the program.

The bill mirrors an earlier proposal which was vetoed by Governor Christie this past winter. Recently, President Obama has highlighted the Georgia Work$ Program and Senators Greenstein, Gordon and Madden are hopeful for the governor’s support this time around.

The bill would appropriate $3 million from the General Fund.

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