The Expendables
July 2, 2013 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Many of America's biggest corporations rely on temp workers to make up an ever increasing portion of their work force. This has led to a boom in the temp agency industry and a sharp decline in temp workers' quality of life.
posted by reenum (32 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Not having RTFA, "temp workers" should include the hordes of IT (and other?) contractors. It's a lousy life.
posted by phrits at 6:12 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

hah, I was looking at posting this:

The 4 AM Army
The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They load the trucks and stock the shelves for some of the U.S.’s largest ­companies—Walmart, Nike, PepsiCo’s Frito-­Lay division—but they are not paid by them; instead they work for temp ­agencies. On June 7, the Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession has been in the temp sector. One list of the biggest U.S. employers placed Kelly Services second only to Walmart.

Outsourcing to temp agencies has cut deep into the U.S. job market: 1 in 5 manual laborers who move and pack merchandise is now a temp, as is 1 in 6 team assemblers, who often work at auto plants. This system insulates companies from workers’-­compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are legal immigrants. Meanwhile, the temps suffer high injury rates, and ­many of them endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that depress their pay below the minimum wage.
previously, previously
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:17 PM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Everyone is expendable. Those of you making >90k just haven't realized it yet.
We are all part of a system that will eat us up and spit us out without compunction.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:39 PM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Who do the mega corporations think are going to buy their products in the US when everyone is broke?
posted by double block and bleed at 6:47 PM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

For whatever reason this reminds me of the Michael Moore documentary The Big One. The problem I have with it is I can't think of a way to craft the law in such a way that it lets people accept temporary work and companies utilize temporary workers when they have a time-limited need for a few extra hands that doesn't lead right back to where we are now.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:52 PM on July 2, 2013

Temping is awful. It's even worse when you realize that it is the new reality, and there may not ever be a "permanent" gig waiting for you if you do well at it. One thing I remember most of all was that as a temp, you are expected to commit to the job despite no benefits or vacation, knowing your term is up at some point and you have to think about your next job so you can eat, while they do not have to commit to you at all. All the benefits, none of the drawbacks of hiring a full-time employee. It is such an unequal relationship, it made me resent work like nothing else and I feel so lucky to finally be free from that trap. For now.
posted by Hoopo at 6:55 PM on July 2, 2013 [26 favorites]

Who do the mega corporations think are going to buy their products in the US when everyone is broke?

Oh, we don't sell products anymore, this is the Economy of Ideas and we are all Knowledge Workers now.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:56 PM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm thinking of the recent post about how baseballs are made in Costa Rica. It was revealed in the course of that thread that Costa Rica has very strong worker protections, but they only apply after a worker has been working at the same place more than 90 days. So every 90 days the Rawlings factory management people fire and then rehire all the workers. We've exported our Theory X bullshit worldwide… God Bless America.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:59 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's even worse when you realize that it is the new reality, and there may not ever be a "permanent" gig waiting for you if you do well at it.

This reminds me of a recent FPP. It would make a good companion to this one.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:18 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found out the other day my buddy is a temp worker as a fucking defense contractor for lockheed martin.

Let me repeat one can be a temp defense contractor.

I found that mind blowing.
posted by sourbrew at 8:20 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

About 6 years ago, I used to frequent a local chapter of Drinking Liberally. I remember bringing up this very issue, as I was a working class machinist at the time and had just gotten through a two-year period of temping and into a union job. I just wanted to know what young professional lefties thought about this stuff, and I was met with several blank stares, a polite, "yes, that's very bad" and a "can we get back to talking about organic food" type response.

Ladies and gentlemen, the American Left.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:35 PM on July 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

TrialByMedia: "Ladies and gentlemen, the American Left."

Not by a long shot. I'm an engineer by training, but I've machined plane parts and pulled wrenches in my job history. I believe in unions. My wife just *finally* got put on permanently after 18 months as a temp as a research chemist. At least five of my friends (off the top of my head) are temps at what are generally considered professional jobs.

We all know and have known that it's not just the blue-collar jobs that are getting temp-ed out. We're all fucked.
posted by notsnot at 9:54 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

(I meant to add, DL seems less like a policy debriefing and more like a place to be able to talk politics--even People-Magazine politics--without that one FOX news guy who is in every random group, and who always sticks his dick in the mashed potatoes. That said, the few times I went to meetings it seemed to be heavy on the exurban-liberal-oasis people and light on the grubby-urban-technophile crowd.)
posted by notsnot at 9:58 PM on July 2, 2013

At my temp job, just today I got a 25 cent per hour raise after hitting 1500 hours of work. An extra 5 bucks a week is not going to compensate me for their 2 month delay in starting this temp gig. We finished the last round in mid-April. They told me to be ready to start work in the first week of May, but we just started last Wednesday. I wrote HR an email in early May, hey we're supposed to start work like NOW but I haven't heard a thing, usually our contracts are written by now. They said they'd email in a couple of weeks and let me know. Weeks pass, I emailed again and reminded them that we agreed to start work in early May and I turned down other short term jobs because I had to keep my schedule clear for the job I had already committed to. THEN they finally set a start date. I texted my friend, hey we're going to start work soon, have you heard anything? Your department usually starts a couple of weeks before ours. She texted back, she couldn't wait and just days ago she moved away to another city for a lesser paying but more stable job. I will probably never see her again. She texted me a cryptic message about how she lost a close friend by moving away. I think she was referring to me, but I couldn't tell. I could not bear to ask her.

I am sick of being a permatemp. This job requires a college degree and highly technical skills, and I earn the same hourly wage as some people who have MAs and PhDs doing the same job. And they just started promoting young kids with 3 days of experience, into jobs I have years of experience at. What the hell happened to this world? My managers have no respect for people's lives, and they were probably taught to be this way by people above them who have no respect for other people's lives. Back when I had a serious job in a serious, professional workplace, back when we had a real economy in the USA rather than a greed-based securities-backed economy, these managers would have gotten kicked to the curb in hours.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:41 PM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

charlie don't surf: “What the hell happened to this world? My managers have no respect for people's lives, and they were probably taught to be this way by people above them who have no respect for other people's lives.”
There are other factors, but I think first and foremost is "The Dumbest Idea in the World: Maximizing Shareholder Value."
posted by ob1quixote at 11:16 PM on July 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I tried temping recently. The agency strung me along with promises of start dates that evaporated, even though I told them that I was rearranging my schedule and delaying travel plans to accommodate them. I finally reached the trigger date when I *had* to either go on my trip or skip it, and that's the day I got called to come in. When I told the agency that I couldn't go in because of the trip I left them know about weeks ago, they never called me again. Never responded to a single email, either. I simply ceased to exist because I wasn't willing to comply with constantly changing demands.

So when I have to listen to someone lecture others about "freedom to contract" and "right to work" and other BS that assumes that there's bargaining parity between labor and employers? I kind of lose my cool.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:08 AM on July 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

Welcome back 19th century labour practices! You haven't been missed at all, but still you managed to return at the hands of 'respectable' companies in search of an even bigger profit.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:34 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

ob1quixote: “For whatever reason this reminds me of the Michael Moore documentary The Big One.”
FYI, if you haven't seen it before, it's worth it. If you have though, don't rewatch it tonight unless you're in a good head-space. Realizing that the movie came out 16 years ago and most of the good folks—Real Americans™, if you will—interviewed for the movie were likely crushed to dust by the millstone of capitalism in the interim isn't good for your gastrointestinal health, blood pressure, or psyche.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:04 AM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, this is a global trend, not just an American trend. In Japan, corporations are moving en mass towards more temp staff and fewer permanent staff. This trend has been ongoing for decades.
posted by gen at 1:37 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I temped for a number of years and actually enjoyed it ... until I ran into the same kind of power imbalance that 1adam12 did.

After I'd say about three years of working for a particular temp agency without any problems, I was given a job working for someone who, for whatever reason, INSTANTLY HATED me. I worked at that job for two days and then got a call saying I shouldn't bother to come back. OK, I thought, good riddance. I explained to the temp agency what had happened, and then waited for the next job.

And then a weird thing happened. The phone didn't ring. No more jobs came in. Ever. When I finally called to find out what was up, I was given the brush-off.

Three years of problem-free work were apparently worth nothing next to one complaint. I was immediately dead to them. No recourse, nothing I could do. The end. They didn't know me, they didn't need me, and they didn't care.
posted by kyrademon at 3:01 AM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is all the more insulting in light of the idea that we're supposed to love what we do for a living and be passionate about it. How the hell do you expect someone to be passionate about a non-permanent job that can terminate at any time? How do you expect someone to perform at their best when they're worried about where their next paycheck is coming from?
posted by Anima Mundi at 5:53 AM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Who do the mega corporations think are going to buy their products in the US when everyone is broke?

Who needs the U.S.? The multinats would probably prefer to shift their customer base to nations where the burgeoning professional classes don't have traditions of labor regulation or consumer protection. It's cheaper to market for three languages than to lobby and litigate in one.

The ultimate goal, I think, is a globally dispersed and therefore politically powerless middle class.
posted by Iridic at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

We have seen this shit before. Remember when the US made stuff like computers and calculators? Back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the whole thing fell apart, corps like Hewlett-Packard made a pretty tidy profit by dissolving the majority of their workforce in favour of temps. Their were entire temp agencies that served only the tech sector for this purpose as TI, DEC and so on all climbed on the temp force bandwagon.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:41 AM on July 3, 2013

Their were entire temp agencies that served only the tech sector for this purpose as TI, DEC and so on all climbed on the temp force bandwagon.

Same for my hometown in Canada in the late 90s/early 2000s with Nortel and JDS Uniphase and the whole fiber-optic boom we had. I suspected within a couple of years that the whole operation was never meant to be anything other than temporary. Big rented warehouses in industrial parks with massive temp workforces.

At that time, they even told you that the way to get your foot in the door with the public service was through temping. Which was true in a way: one government placement I had, my supervisor was a guy who had hired me at the temp agency a year earlier. Apparently he decided to keep one of the jobs that came across his desk for himself. I don't blame him. Government pay is good, especially in management. More secure than whatever commission-based model they might have at the temp agency I'm sure.

Other temp memories: I recall going in for interviews at temp agencies and outlining my skills and education and what kind of work I am looking for (office work, governmental. Tryin to get on that gravy train!). The first call from the agency invariably started with "do you have steel-toed boots?" And when I first moved to Vancouver, and was told by the temp agency I would be doing some sort of security and it turned out when I got there they wanted me to hock credit cards at the PNE. Also working in an embedded temp agency at the hydro company, who had some sort of relationship with a giant multinational temp agency that actually had space in their head office to manage the temp workforce that did a bunch of their admin. I was offered a free coffee table book about the great things the company did on my first day, featuring many pictures of Tiger Woods golfing.
posted by Hoopo at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good times, good times. Remember that time when I was laid off from "Big Financial Institution", and then two weeks later started getting calls from Temp agencies looking for someone with my exact skill set to fill a position that sounded very familiar? Remember that? Then when I asked them where, and how much they said "Big Financial Institution", and quoted a rate that was about 1/2 of what I was making. Remember that? Never mind that "Big Financial Institution" was listed first on the resume the temp agency was looking at... Seems they missed that one.
posted by Gungho at 9:14 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

So Industry is using the temp worker services to reduce labor costs and splitting the difference with the temp agencies, huh? This is my surprised face. Yep, good old free marketplace improving the lot of society one food stamp at a time. This is why there is an army of elected officials opposed to any new regulation. As long as the government can't adapt to Industry's evolving strategies, it's a win-win (for Industry and temp agencies, anyway).
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:48 PM on July 3, 2013

What's the solution? What kinds of regulations would help or stop the bad practices? Given the flux-y nature of temp work, does union strategy/membership strategy need to adapt somehow?
posted by prefpara at 1:57 PM on July 3, 2013

Even the outsourcers are being outsourced. Of the few dozen technical recruiters I know personally, I think 2 or 3 have permanent gigs; all the rest go from one temp recruiting gig to another. And these are professionals with years if not decades of experience. This is apparently the future of the industry, and it's kind of grim to see a mid-50s pro go from years of stable employment to jockeying for the next 3 month gig while competing against younger, cheaper and more desperate folks.

Unortunately, I think it's going to get worse for them. I get a couple of dozen emails a day from various "recruiters" who have "reviewed my resume" and "has a position I would be fit for". It's almost always a temp gig, almost always non-local and almost always a minimal-to-none fit to my resume. I can usually spot the single word on my resume their spam-cannon hit on to point at me. A good number of them feature the sort of "English is not my first language" features that indicate that the person behind the email isn't even in-country. Recruiting has apparently taken a page out of the "penis pill" and "penny stock fraud" school of sales.
posted by kjs3 at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had the same experience as gungho. Laid off from a high-paying job requiring some fairly niche skills. Contacted by an offshore recruiter for a temp gig at the same company with the same job description as my previous at 2/3 the pay.

I really hate the way this works. And while I think I can see a way to play this game so that I come out ahead (in the near-term, at least), I honestly don't see what I can do to help change it back to something more equitable for the 99%. It's really very grim.
posted by bluejayway at 2:54 PM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only way I've managed to be hired was through temping. I quit my last benefits-full job two years ago and have been temping ever since. I've managed to land at a good company, one that has a history of either hiring their temps or letting them go, and there should be a job posting for me soon. I'll probably take it, because hey, PTO and health insurance are pretty rad. Not to mention the overall bump in pay.

But here's the thing. You get paid hourly? You get to work 40 hours, go home, and do something that's not work. Overtime for non-salaried employees is expensive. My salaried coworkers bring their work home with them, are on the VPN and answering questions at 11pm. Another coworker that's ordering dinner to the office so often that the bitesquad guy knows his name. That's the expectation, that if you're working then you're always available for work.

What I'm really looking for in a job is a 40 hour work week (maybe a little more during the busy season), some modicum of stability, health insurance, and two weeks vacation every year. Give me a Dilbert cube farm. I'll fill out as many TPS reports as possible. This is the sort of soul-sucking job that I was told to fear, and now it seems like it's too good to be true.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:06 PM on July 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

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