“Nobody likes this job,” she says in hesitant English. “But the money.”
September 11, 2017 7:19 PM   Subscribe

Under Cover in Temp Nation by Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Brendan Kennedy [The Toronto Star] “There are two dozen of us crowded around a conveyor belt, bodies twisting to snatch dough off the line. The floor is strewn with raw pastries that seem to accumulate faster than anyone can sweep them up. They collect in bloated masses at our feet. It is my first day as a temp at Fiera Foods, an industrial bakery that reeks of yeast and is alive with the constant drone of machinery. We are forming and packing raw, circular pastry dough into wet plastic trays — a shoulder-crunching task called pinching. These may well be the croissants you eat for breakfast. Supervisors shout at us to wake up. They shout at us to move faster, pinch nicer, work harder. No one talks through the noise and exhaustion. The factory relies heavily on temporary help agency workers. Its health and safety record is checkered; three temps have died here or at Fiera’s affiliated companies since 1999. Across the province, more and more people are relying on temp agencies to find work. When they do, statistics show they are more likely to get hurt on the job. I am undercover to investigate why.”
posted by Fizz (17 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's hugely disheartening. Their response: But she lied to us about who she was. Identity theft. Aha!!!
posted by unliteral at 8:08 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Those who are cheering for the return of manufacturing jobs to North America really should read this, because if they do, they won't come back as the secure, full time, unionized jobs that will feed a family and buy you a house, but more than likely crushing temp work with no benefits.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:16 PM on September 11 [62 favorites]


“He remembers you specifically,” Gelbloom said. “He tells us that at no time did he sense you did not understand what you were being told … nor did you indicate to him that you were having any difficulty understanding his instructions or that you were dissatisfied with your orientation.”

In fact, I was trained by a woman.


Zing!
posted by retrograde at 8:17 PM on September 11 [21 favorites]


Today the WSJ ran an article about companies expanding to new cities to tap into large pools of "underemployed" labor.

People are under-employed when they are employed for fewer hours per week than they desire or when they are not able to use specialized skills or when they are paid less than they desire.

The article presented this strategy as a real innovation, because apparently companies are not used to people without jobs taking whatever came along.

As I read the article, I just marveled at the astonishing omission of any inquiry into why people were now willing to accept worse jobs where previously they were able to hold out for something comparable to what they had before.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:26 PM on September 11 [15 favorites]


I once met a guy who ran a company that provided contract industrial cleaning services to the slaughterhouse industry in Iowa and Wisconsin. You can imagine the labor turnover there.

(At an earlier age, I visited a sea cucumber processing plant in Wilmington, Ca, after delivering a catch, where I imagined the labor turnover was much greater than it actually was.)
posted by notyou at 9:54 PM on September 11


Reading this sort of thing makes me wonder how much of this kind of abuse goes into the food we buy day-to-day at the supermarket. Even when you're careful what you buy - organic, British, fair trade, free range, whatever else - the spectre of industrial agriculture and industrial food production with its endless cruelty to both animal and human is never far away. Even buying organic British veg, I can't help thinking of the gang of below-minimum-wage 'casual' European labourers who will most likely have toiled away in a Lincolnshire field picking it.

Most mornings on the way to work I pass a open-sided truck loaded up with thousands of chickens in plastic crates, exposed to the elements, rattling down the motorway at great speed. Those poor things must be cold, terrified. Every time I see the damn thing I swear blind that I'm going to go vegan. Our food producers simply do not care who or what they hurt, exploit or damage in the pursuit of ever cheaper junk.

But short of moving to a farm and growing and making absolutely everything yourself, how do you limit your own exposure to these kinds of industrial food operations? It's scary to think that literally every time you buy any food in a big shop, it's likely come from a place like this. I don't want to be complicit in this any more.
posted by winterhill at 11:45 PM on September 11 [11 favorites]


It is possible that not being complicit in it requires more than individual action; i.e. building organizations that allow all workers to meaningfully express material solidarity with each other and then arm those organizations, seize control of all productive property, establish a state of dual power wherein the workers' organizations are seen as co-equal with bourgeois elected parliaments etc etc amen

but yeah there's no individualist/consumerist way out; even if you find a way to drop out of the industrial food system, you'll be complicit through the materials you use to grow your own food, and through doing whatever you need to do to claim control of property on which to grow it.

probably the least bad individualist option is freeganism, but freeganism sucks. and doesn't scale.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 AM on September 12 [33 favorites]


Across the province, more and more people are relying on temp agencies to find work.

That's a funny way of saying "more and more companies are doing all their hiring through temp agencies, to the point that it's virtually impossible for prospective workers to get an entry-level job without some agency getting an unreasonable piece of their meagre paycheque for the valuable service of fuck-all for as long as that worker works for that employer, and without that worker ever actually getting to pick which jobs they're applying for, or seeing what jobs are really available that might fit their skillset better than whatever random gig they're thrown into."

I'm sure I've said it before, maybe several times, but it really can't be said enough: Fuck temp agencies forever. Bloodsucking, bottomfeeding, gatekeeping pimps, taking advantage of people who are barely scraping by. It's almost hard to understand why any business would ever outsource its hiring in the first place. Isn't hiring a workforce pretty much the most basic thing about running a business? Isn't it something they'd want control over? Isn't it cheaper to do themselves? Couldn't they save a bundle on labour if they weren't paying two people with every paycheque? Isn't the whole business model of a temp agency just to sponge up whatever money these companies are willing to piss away? Why so incontinent?

But of course I understand why. The reason is simple: Responsibility, accountability, liability. Temp means disposable, in every sense. As far as the employer is concerned, all humanity has been removed from the equation. They aren't hiring workers; they're buying labour. It's no mystery why temps get hurt. You know who's trained me at every temp job I've ever had in a factory or warehouse? In every case, it was the last temp hired before me, and never for more than five minutes. Their average age was probably around 17½.

But good god, at least I always got paid in a way that seemed halfway legitimate. The operation in the article is *insane.* An address-free temp agency (A) paying non-taxed, unrecorded cash through an alias-bearing payday loan place (B)? On top of being two of the most scum-of-the-earth exploitative business models around, there just aren't enough red flags in China for a setup like that. I'd bet dollars to donuts that (A) has more employees on the payroll than actually exist, (B) records all the cash alotted to those phony employees as interest payments on phony accounts, and (A) and (B) are in fact the same entity. I mean, come on, just buy a laundromat already.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:49 AM on September 12 [36 favorites]


“I am a human being,” she says. “Not a robot.”

I look around the break room on my last shift. Some workers are calling home. Some are mechanically chewing food, exhausted. Others have headphones on — drowning out a Fiera-branded video that plays on a loop.

“You are the reason for our success,” the text on the screen tells us. “Our employees are like family.”


The double-speak pervading this exposé is just jaw-dropping and oh boy, was anyone else just shivering with nausea whilst reading about the Emergency Stop apparatus being barriered by a second conveyer belt?


Exposés of industrial food production, like this excellent piece, and say Fast Food Nation, sickens with the representation of industrial production modes that disrupts our feeling of honest relations with the stuffs we consume. Like, in this article, the ranging gaze over the disgusting bathrooms, the cavalier attitude to gloves usage or even hygiene checks for staff handling food. It's disgusting that the cleanliness is so double-spoke, signs on the wall but no actual cleanliness facilities.

And the food itself is objectified as lumps and bother for machine bits, completely de-coupled from the elegance of croissant trays in malls. This disgustification of the actual food produced in these places is part of the way we are shepherded towards myth breaking. Like in Fast Food Nation, *this* is what you eat, the tears and suffering of workers who die or the animals they transport and kill are all part of this visceral, dis-embodying, horrible mill.


Apart from that, the incredible [literally, yet also not] way this company has been able to send workers to a payday lender to get their un-notated cash envelopes from a convicted huckster launderer. I mean, this is *so* fucking shady. And yet, the Establishment is fine with them all.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:15 AM on September 12 [13 favorites]


Shitty, fraudulent companies like Fiera Foods often receive grants and tax breaks from provincial governments. Fiera received 1.5 million in 2014.

Fuck temp agencies forever. Bloodsucking, bottomfeeding, gatekeeping pimps, taking advantage of people who are barely scraping by.

The Star investigation found that a lot of these temp agencies are shams. I imagine most are set up by employers to get around labour laws, tax reporting, etc.
posted by Stonkle at 5:46 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


Reading this sort of thing makes me wonder how much of this kind of abuse goes into the food we buy day-to-day at the supermarket.

Like Sonic says, there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism.
posted by Merus at 5:48 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


In free-market capitalism, there's an impetus to make things more cheaply. That can be done two ways: Figure out ways to be more productive, so that the same amount of work creates more stuff, or, use your bargaining power to exploit workers. The first way isn't so bad. The problem is that once a product hits the shelves with a price tag on it, there's no way for you to know which of those two routes was used to make it cheap.

The Scandanavian model of wage compression is a partial solution to this, though even there the exploitation is merely hidden by pushing the shit jobs offshore.
posted by clawsoon at 6:20 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


winterhill: But short of moving to a farm and growing and making absolutely everything yourself, how do you limit your own exposure to these kinds of industrial food operations?

My spouse and I moved to a farm, and we try very hard to raise as much of our own food as possible. It's damned hard. We processed chickens this past weekend. It's really tough on the soul. We struggle with it -- the decision to continue to eat meat. For us, the only ethical choice now is to only eat meat now if we raised/hunted it or know who did.

How do you limit your exposure? Find farmers. They're everywhere, even near/in big cities. Buy your vegetables and meat from places you can visit and from people you can talk to. Ask them questions about how the animals live and how they die. Ask how they grow the vegetables and who does the labor. Same with processed foods: bread, jams, etc.

It's expensive, and it should be.
posted by slipthought at 7:47 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


Like Sonic says, there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:19 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


slipthought: It's damned hard. We processed chickens this past weekend. It's really tough on the soul.

My maternal grandfather couldn't take slaughtering his animals. The neighbours had to come over and do it for him.

And he cried when he couldn't save his team of horses after a hired man bloated them.

It makes me wonder how many people who hated killing were forced to do it as farmers because farming was the only job available to 90% of the population.
posted by clawsoon at 9:20 AM on September 12 [14 favorites]



How do you limit your exposure? Find farmers. They're everywhere, even near/in big cities. Buy your vegetables and meat from places you can visit and from people you can talk to. Ask them questions about how the animals live and how they die. Ask how they grow the vegetables and who does the labor. Same with processed foods: bread, jams, etc.


This is a nice answer. It also reeks of privilege, and is non scalable. How can poor people make these choices? How can farmers compete with cheap agri-conglomerate goods?

The world we have at the moment makes it difficult for us to make choices to buy sustainable and ethical goods because of externalities. Fix the externality problem and "cheap environmentally polluting or labor-crushing goods" are no longer cheap and we no longer suffer as many societal woes.

Most of capitalism's effort is creating new ways to dispose of externalities (or sustaining existing externality disposal), so less money goes to the commons - which allowed the existence of capital! - and more to the capitalist.

It is societies job to RESIST this and force capitalism to not offload its woes on us.

The main problem here, as always, is externalities.
posted by lalochezia at 12:42 PM on September 12 [27 favorites]


And this comes as politicians get into an unseemly mess in order to attract the Amazon HQ to Ontario. Wonder what giveaways and employment protections they'll willingly roll over to give the Bezos a shack in the province?
posted by scruss at 9:02 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


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