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Truck drivers may drive hundreds of miles a day, but many are doing it without benefits and routine worker protections, according to lawmakers going after companies that improperly classify the drivers as independent contractors.

Assembly members released a proposal last week that sets a much higher bar for port trucking and delivery companies to prove their drivers are truly contractors — and fines employers who misclassify regular workers as contractors to save payroll expenses.

“Companies that knowingly misclassify their workers are denying employees benefits they are entitled to, including the right to workers’ compensation and protection under minimum wage and overtime laws,” said Assembly Budget Chairman Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus. “It’s unethical, and with this bill, it will be illegal.”

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, leads sponsorship of the bill, which follows 2010 federal research by President Obama’s administration showing that eliminating job misclassification nationwide could provide $7 billion over a decade in additional payroll taxes and penalties.

In 2005, New Jersey’s Department of Labor found employers had tried to save more than $625 million in unreported wages for 28,200 workers. Nearly 25,000 workers were misclassified the following year, the department found.

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