Greenstein/Gordon/Madden ‘Back To Work Nj’ Bill Clears Senate

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Program Would Provide On-The-Job Training for New Jersey’s Unemployed

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Linda R. Greenstein, Bob Gordon and Fred H. Madden that would allow New Jersey’s unemployed to receive on-the-job training to learn new skills and potentially find employment was approved today by the full Senate. 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 Senator 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.

“With sustained economic uncertainty, businesses are wary of hiring new employees and increasing the size of their workforces,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen). “This program offers a unique opportunity for employers to train and evaluate potential employees, while providing unemployed trainees the ability to demonstrate the value they bring to the organization, and hopefully leading employers to fill vacant positions or to create new jobs.”

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.

“The ‘Back to Work NJ’ Program would simultaneously benefit unemployed New Jerseyans, business owners and the economy,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester, Camden), Chair of the Senate Labor Committee. “The economic benefits of this program extend beyond the employee and the employers directly involved in the program, and also include economic benefits to the state. By creating a path to employment for New Jersey’s unemployed workers, we can decrease the number of New Jersey residents receiving unemployment compensation while increasing the state’s tax base, creating a winning situation for all involved.”

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. It passed the full Senate by a vote of 24-13. It will now head to the Governor’s desk.

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