Journalism in the Public Interest

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed

America is now dotted with “temp towns” – places where it’s difficult to find blue-collar work except through a temp agency and where workers often suffer lost wages, no benefits and high injury rates.

Rosa Ramirez waits to be called for a job at the temp agency Staffing Network in Hanover Park, Ill., on Jan. 21, 2013. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Updated July 1 with new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s 4:18 a.m. and the strip mall is deserted. But tucked in back, next to a closed-down video store, an employment agency is already filling up. Rosa Ramirez walks in, as she has done nearly every morning for the past six months. She signs in and sits down in one of the 100 or so blue plastic chairs that fill the office. Over the next three hours, dispatchers will bark out the names of who will work today. Rosa waits, wondering if she will make her rent.

In cities all across the country, workers stand on street corners, line up in alleys or wait in a neon-lit beauty salon for rickety vans to whisk them off to warehouses miles away. Some vans are so packed that to get to work, people must squat on milk crates, sit on the laps of passengers they do not know or sometimes lie on the floor, the other workers’ feet on top of them.

This is not Mexico. It is not Guatemala or Honduras. This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston.

The people here are not day laborers looking for an odd job from a passing contractor. They are regular employees of temp agencies working in the supply chain of many of America’s largest companies – Walmart, Macy’s, Nike, Frito-Lay. They make our frozen pizzas, sort the recycling from our trash, cut our vegetables and clean our imported fish. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves. They are as important to the global economy as shipping containers and Asian garment workers.

Many get by on minimum wage, renting rooms in rundown houses, eating dinners of beans and potatoes, and surviving on food banks and taxpayer-funded health care. They almost never get benefits and have little opportunity for advancement.

Across America, temporary work has become a mainstay of the economy, leading to the proliferation of what researchers have begun to call “temp towns.” They are often dense Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm.

In June, the Labor Department reported that the nation had more temp workers than ever before: 2.7 million. Overall, almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows. But according to the American Staffing Association, the temp industry’s trade group, the pool is even larger: Every year, a tenth of all U.S. workers finds a job at a staffing agency.

The proportion of temp workers in the labor force reached its peak in early 2000 before the 2001 slump and then the Great Recession. But as the economy continues its slow, uneven recovery, temp work is roaring back 10 times faster than private-sector employment as a whole – a pace “exceeding even the dramatic run-up of the early 1990s,” according to the staffing association.

The Rise of Blue-Collar Temp Jobs


 2012Source: ProPublica analysis of Occupational Employment Statistics data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The overwhelming majority of that growth has come in blue-collar work in factories and warehouses, as the temp industry sheds the Kelly Girl image of the past. Last year, more than one in every 20 blue-collar workers was a temp.

Several temp agencies, such as Adecco and Manpower, are now among the largest employers in the United States. One list put Kelly Services as second only to Walmart.

“We’re seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, a top official in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. “While it’s certainly not a new phenomenon, it’s rapidly escalating. In the last 10 to 15 years, there’s just a big shift to this for a lot more workers – which makes them a lot more vulnerable.”

The temp system insulates the host companies from workers’ compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, the temps suffer high injury rates, according to federal officials and academic studies, and many of them endure hours of unpaid waiting and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

The rise of the blue-collar permatemp helps explain one of the most troubling aspects of the phlegmatic recovery. Despite a soaring stock market and steady economic growth, many workers are returning to temporary or part-time jobs. This trend is intensifying America’s decades-long rise in income inequality, in which low- and middle-income workers have seen their real wages stagnate or decline. On average, temps earn 25 percent less than permanent workers.

Many economists predict the growth of temp work will continue beyond the recession, in part because of health-care reform, which some economists say will lead employers to hire temps to avoid the costs of covering full-time workers.

The Rise of ‘Temp Towns’

Rosa, a 49-year-old Mexican immigrant with thin glasses and a curly bob of brown hair, has been a temp worker for the better part of 12 years. She has packed free samples for Walmart, put together displays for Sony, printed ads for Marlboro, made air filters for the Navy and boxed textbooks for elite colleges and universities. None of the work led to a full-time job.

Even though some assignments last months, such as her recent job packaging razors for Philips Norelco, every day is a crapshoot for Rosa. She must first check in at the temp agency in Hanover Park, Ill., by 4:30 a.m. and wait. If she is lucky enough to be called, she must then take a van or bus to the worksite. And even though the agency, Staffing Network, is her legal employer, she is not paid until she gets to the assembly line at 6 a.m.

Locations of Temp Workers

These counties had high concentrations of temporary help service workers for counties with more than 100,000 workers in 2012. Overall, 2.2 percent of private-sector workers were temps in 2012.

Greenville County, S.C.8.3%
Kane County, Ill.7.4%
Kent County, Mich.6.7%
Middlesex County, N.J.6.4%
Shelby County, Tenn.5.8%
Lake County, Ill.5.4%
Passaic County, N.J.5.2%
San Bernardino County, Calif.4.8%
Fayette County, Ky.4.6%
Burlington County, N.J.4.4%
Fulton County, Ga.4.2%

Source: ProPublica analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data; Updated July 1, 2013

In Kane County, Ill., where Rosa lives, one in every 14 workers is a temp. Such high concentrations of temp workers exist in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Middlesex County, N.J.; Memphis, Tenn.; the Inland Empire of California; and Lehigh County, Pa. In New Jersey, white vans zip through an old Hungarian neighborhood in New Brunswick, picking up workers at temp agencies along French Street. In Joliet, Ill., one temp agency operated out of a motel meeting room once a week, supplying labor to the layers of logistics contractors at one of Walmart’s biggest warehouses. In Greenville County, S.C., near BMW’s U.S. manufacturing plant, one in 12 workers was a temp in 2012. A decade before, it was one in 22.

In temp towns, it is not uncommon to find warehouses with virtually no employees of their own. Many temp workers say they have worked in the same factory day in and day out for years. José Miguel Rojo, for example, packed frozen pizzas for a Walmart supplier every day for eight years as a temp until he was injured last summer and lost his job. (Walmart said Rojo wasn’t its employee and that it wants its suppliers to treat their workers well.)

Occupations of Temp Workers

These occupations had high concentrations of their workers in the employment services industry in 2012.

Production helpers (entry-level jobs that require less skill)29.2%
Laborers and freight, stock and material movers by hand18.4%
Assemblers who work in a team17.6%
Human resources specialists16.2%
Packers and packagers by hand16.2%
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders16.1%
Data entry keyers15.1%
Demonstrators and product promoters11.5%
Metal and plastic cutting, punching and press machine setters, operators and tenders10.1%
Construction laborers9.4%

Source: ProPublica analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics data

In some lines of work, huge numbers of full-time workers have been replaced by temps. One in five manual laborers who move and pack merchandise is now a temp. As is one in six assemblers who work in a team, such as those at auto plants.

To be sure, many temp assignments serve a legitimate and beneficial purpose. Temp agencies help companies weather sudden or seasonal upswings and provide flexibility for uncertain times. Employees try out jobs, gain skills and transition to full-time work.

“I think our industry has been good for North America, as far as keeping people working,” said Randall Hatcher, president of MAU Workforce Solutions, which supplies temps to BMW. “I get laid off by Employer A and go over here to Employer B, and maybe they have a job for me. People get a lot of different experiences. An employee can work at four to five different companies and then maybe decide this is what I want to do.”

Companies like the “flexibility,” he added. “To be able to call someone and say, ‘I need 100 people’ is very powerful. It allows them to meet orders that they might not otherwise.”

But over the years, many companies have upended that model and stretched the definition of “temporary work.”

At least 840,000 temp workers are like Rosa: working blue-collar jobs and earning less than $25,000 a year, a ProPublica analysis of federal labor data found. Only about 30 percent of industrial temp jobs will become permanent, according to a survey by Staffing Industry Analysts.

By 4:52 a.m., the chairs at Rosa’s temp agency are filled, and workers line the walls, clutching plastic bags that contain their lunches. From behind the tall white counter, the voice of an unseen dispatcher booms like a game-show host, calling out the first batch of workers: ___ Mendoza, ___ Rosales, ___ Centeno, ___ Martinez, ...

It is a practice that George Gonos, a sociologist at SUNY-Potsdam who has spent his career studying the temp industry, calls the modern version of the “shape-up” – a practice in which longshoremen would line up in front of a boss, who would pick them one by one for work on the docks.

The day after Thanksgiving 1960, Edward R. Murrow broadcast a report called “Harvest of Shame,” documenting the plight of migrant farmworkers. Temp workers today face many similar conditions in how they get hired, how they get to work, how they live and what they can afford to eat. Adjusted for inflation, those farmworkers earned roughly the same 50 years ago as many of today’s temp workers, including Rosa. In fact, some of the same farm towns featured in Murrow’s report have now been built up with warehouses filled with temps.

As before, the products change by the season. But now, instead of picking strawberries, tomatoes and corn, the temp workers pack chocolates for Valentine’s Day, barbecue grills for Memorial Day, turkey pans for Thanksgiving, clothing and toys for Christmas.

African-Americans make up 11 percent of the overall workforce but more than 20 percent of temp workers. Willie Pearson, who is African-American, has been a full-time worker at BMW's South Carolina plant for 14 years. But since at least 2005, he said, he hasn't seen anyone who’s “been hired straight on. It’s all been through temporary agencies.” The company says “after six months they can hire them,” he said, “but I’d say it’s only one out of five” who actually lands a full-time job.

BMW did not return calls for this story.

Latinos make up about 20 percent of all temp workers. In many temp towns, agencies have flocked to neighborhoods full of undocumented immigrants, finding labor that is kept cheap in part by these workers’ legal vulnerability: They cannot complain without risking deportation.

Labor Sharks and Kelly Girls

Many people believe that the use of temp workers simply grew organically, filling a niche that companies demanded in an ever-changing global economy. But decades before “outsourcing” was even a word, the temp industry campaigned to persuade corporate America that permanent workers were a burden.

White Glove Girl, a Manpower game made in 1966. The object of the game is to be the first to earn money to afford four goals: children's college education, a vacation, home remodeling and a new wardrobe. (Krista Kjellman Schmidt /ProPublica)The industry arose after World War II as the increase in office work led to a need for secretaries and typists for short assignments. At the time, nearly every state had laws regulating employment agents in order to stop the abuses of labor sharks, who charged exorbitant fees to new European immigrants in the early 1900s. Presenting temp work as a new industry, big temp firms successfully lobbied to rewrite those laws so that they didn’t apply to temp firms.

In the 1960s, agencies such as Kelly Services and Manpower advertised their services as women’s work, providing “pin money” to housewives, according to Erin Hatton, a SUNY Buffalo sociologist and author of The Temp Economy. And they marketed the advantages of workers that the host company wasn’t responsible for — a theme that continues today.

A Kelly Girl advertisement for 'The Never-Never Girl.' (Source: The Office, January 1971, p. 19 via Erin Hatton) | <a href=''>Larger version</a>One 1971 Kelly Girl ad that Hatton found, called “The Never-Never Girl,” featured a woman biting a pencil. The copy read:

Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her.) Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. (Not on your time anyway!) Never costs you for unemployment taxes and social security payments. (None of the paperwork, either!) Never costs you for fringe benefits. (They add up to 30% of every payroll dollar.) Never fails to please. (If our Kelly Girl employee doesn’t work out, you don’t pay. We’re that sure of all our girls.)

Carl Camden, the current chief executive of Kelly Services, said the anachronistic language was a response to the chauvinistic attitude of the time. “It wasn’t typical to see women working,” he said. “So you had that work often positioned as not real work. The way the media could sell it as sociologically acceptable was making money for Christmas, something you were doing on the side for your family.” (Manpower didn’t return calls for this story.)

An Olsten Services advertisement warning executives that a few more people on the payroll could cut into profits even in good times. (Source: Personnel Journal, September 1968, inside front cover via Erin Hatton) | <a href=''>Larger version</a>Gradually, temp firms began moving into blue-collar work. At the end of the 1960s — a decade in which the American economy grew by 50 percent — temp agencies began selling the idea of temping out entire departments. Relying on temps only for seasonal work and uncertain times was foolish, the agencies told managers over the next two decades. Instead, they said companies should have a core of, say, five employees supplemented by as many as 50 temps, Hatton wrote.

The temp industry boomed in the 1990s, as the rise of just-in-time manufacturing drove just-in-time labor. But it also gained by promoting itself as the antidote to bad publicity over layoffs. If a company laid off a large portion of its workforce, it could make big news and leave customers feeling sour. But if a company simply cut its temps, it was easy to write it off as seasonal — and the host company could often avoid the federal requirement that it notify workers of mass layoffs in advance.

More recently, temp firms have successfully lobbied to change laws or regulatory interpretations in 31 states, so that workers who lose their assignments and are out of work cannot get unemployment benefits unless they check back in with the temp firm for another assignment.

'You Are Not Driving Goats'

Rosa sits on the mattress in the room she rents with her boyfriend. The trap she sets for rats is visible on the floor near the door frame. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)Rosa lives in the living room of an old Victorian boarding house. There is a cheap mattress on the floor, and a sheet blocks the French doors that separate her room from the hallway. The rent is $450 a month, which she splits with her boyfriend who works as a carpet installer. She shares a kitchen and bathroom with another family. A trap by her door guards against the rats that have woken her up at night.

Rosa came to the United States in 1997 from Ecatepec, Mexico, where she struggled to raise two sons on her own as a street vendor of beauty supplies. When she found out a neighbor had hired a coyote to help her cross the border, Rosa joined her, leaving her children with family and taking a bus to the frontera. They walked for three days across the desert to a meeting point, where a bus took them to a safe house in Phoenix and then to Cullman, Ala.

By the time she arrived in Cullman, Rosa recalled, her shoes were so full of holes that her first mission was to go to a strip mall and dig through a clothing donation bin for a new pair.

“I worked in a poultry plant and a restaurant at the same time so I could get enough money to send back to Mexico,” she said. Like Rosa, many undocumented immigrants who spoke for this story landed full-time jobs when they first arrived in the 1990s. But many of them lost their jobs when factories closed during the recent recession and have since found only temp work.

Another temp worker, Judith Iturralde, traced the shift back even earlier, to the immigration crackdowns after 9/11. She said that after she returned to work from surgery in 2002, the compact-disc warehouse she worked at told her it could no longer employ her because she didn’t have papers. They directed her to a temp firm, she said, and a few years later, she returned to the same warehouse, still undocumented.

After raising enough money, Rosa returned to Mexico and brought her two teenage sons across the desert and back to Alabama, where they worked full-time at a lumberyard. After her son got hurt on the job, they moved to Chicago, hoping for a better life.

But the only work Rosa was able to find was at temp agencies.

It is now 5:03 a.m. at Staffing Network, and the first batch of workers waits outside to board the school bus for Norelco. The agency said it offers complimentary transportation for its employees’ benefit. But worker advocates say vans help the temp agencies by ensuring they provide their corporate clients with the right number of workers at the right time.

Many metro areas don’t have adequate transportation from the working-class neighborhoods to the former farmland where warehouses have sprouted over the past 15 years. So a system of temp vans has popped up, often contracted by the agencies. Workers in several cities said they feel pressured to get on the vans or lose the job. They usually pay $7 to $8 a day for the round trip.

Vicente Ramos with his children in their home in New Brunswick, N.J., in March. Ramos recounted how he had to walk for three hours one night when the temp agency van didn't show. (Melanie Burford for ProPublica)Workers describe the vans as dangerously overcrowded with as many as 22 people stuffed into a 15-passenger van. In New Jersey, one worker drew a diagram of how his temp agency fit 17 people into a minivan, using wooden benches and baby seats and having three workers crouch in the trunk space.

“They push and push us in until we get like cigarettes in a box,” said one Illinois worker. “Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, you are not driving goats!’”

Several workers said the temp agency had left them stranded at times. Vicente Ramos, a father of six who lives in New Jersey, recalled how several years ago he and other workers walked for three hours one night after the van failed to show up.

“We were getting hungry and thirsty, and we could barely walk, and our feet were hurting,” Ramos said. “They still charged us for the ride.”

A New Temp Ecosystem

It is now 5:20 a.m., and a second batch of workers has been called for Norelco. Dispatchers are starting to tap workers for Start Sampling, which provides free samples of items like shampoos, coffee and cat food on behalf of retailers and consumer product companies.

The dispatchers have called several other workers named Rosa. Each time, her ears perk up, but it is always another last name. She goes to the counter and asks the dispatchers if they think there will be work today. They tell her there’s not much but to wait a little longer in case a company calls to say they need more bodies.

Rosa Ramirez, flanked by members of Chicago Workers Collaborative, reads her speech at Staffing Network in November 2012. (Screenshot from video courtesy of Chicago Workers Collaborative)Two months before, in November, Rosa walked into the temp agency with something to say. She had been attending meetings of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, a nonprofit that advocates for temp workers and is funded by various religious and anti-poverty foundations. Though Rosa became increasingly active, her only source of income is temp jobs.

“My name is Rosa Ramirez,” she said, flanked by leaders of the workers collaborative, who recorded the speech on a cellphone. “We wanted to read some points that we want to change here in this office.”

“Stop forcing workers to wait without pay before the work shift,” Rosa said, standing in the center of the room and reading from a paper she had brought.

“Allow workers to go directly to the worksite, because some people have children, and they can’t find care that early.”

The workers sitting in the bucket chairs looked down nervously, not sure what would happen next.

Rosa read on. “Don’t force employees to wait outside of the office until transportation arrives during the winter months.”

“We don’t want to be loaded into trucks or vans,” Rosa said. “Because they carry us like sardines.”

Looking back on that day, Rosa said she feels empowered at times but at other times defeated.

“I no longer could stand the abuses,” Rosa said. “I see people accepting them, and so I thought by standing up and speaking, I was hoping that people would join me and would agree and would stand up for themselves. But unfortunately, the majority of the people did not.”

Staffing Network said in a statement that workers weren’t required to come to the branch office. Many workers, it said, get hired by calling about job opportunities and then go directly to their worksites.

“Our track record of being a fair and lawful employer is evidenced by the fact that more than 65 percent of the temporary employees we hire and place have worked with Staffing Network for one year or more,” the company wrote. “We provide all employees opportunities to voice any questions or concerns about any aspects of their jobs — without any retaliation.”

Unions, on the ropes nationwide, have historically done little for temp workers. The temp industry initially won union backing by promising never to cross picket lines. But in 1985, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that the trade association could not force its members to honor that pledge; so they didn’t.

“Unions have had two souls when it comes to temp workers,” said Harley Shaiken, a longtime labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. One is to try to include them, he said, but “the other is circle the wagons, protect the full-time workers that are there.”

Will Collette, who led an AFL-CIO campaign against the temp firm Labor Ready in the early 2000s, said it was nearly impossible to organize workers with such a high turnover.

And recent rulings have tied union hands. A 2004 order by the National Labor Relations Board barred temp workers from joining with permanent workers for collective bargaining unless both the temp agency and the host company agree to the arrangement.

Some temp firms have even promoted themselves as experts at maintaining a union-free workplace. In a proposal for the off-road vehicle maker Polaris, the temp agency Westaff, a division of the Select Family of Staffing Companies, said its team was specially trained to spot early warning signs of union activity, such as “groups of workers huddling, then quieting when managers appear.”

Walmart's warehouse complex southwest of Chicago is managed by Schneider Logistics. Walmart, along with many other American companies, benefits from temp labor, both for its flexibility and for the protection it provides from complaints from workers and regulators. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)Meanwhile, a whole ecosystem of contractors and subcontractors benefits from the flexibility of just-in-time labor. For example, Walmart’s two largest warehouse complexes are southwest of Chicago and in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. Both are managed by Schneider Logistics, which in turn subcontracts to an ever-changing cast of third-party logistics firms and staffing companies.

Such layers of temp agencies have helped Walmart avoid responsibility when regulators have uncovered problems or when workers have tried to sue, accusing the company of wage or safety violations. For example, when California inspected Walmart’s Inland Empire warehouse in 2011 and found that workers were being paid piece-rate according to how many shipping containers they unloaded, rather than by the hour, regulators issued more than $1 million in fines against the subcontractors for failing to show how the pay was calculated. Neither Walmart nor Schneider faced penalties.

Asked if the layers of subcontracting allow Walmart to escape blame, spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said, “Absolutely not.”

“We work very hard to abide by the law,” she said, “and we expect all the businesses that we do business with and that they do business with to comply with the law.”

Schneider treats its associates with “dignity and respect,” spokeswoman Janet Bonkowski wrote in an email. “Our suppliers are independent,” she said. “When we utilize third-party vendors, we contractually require full compliance with all required laws and that all parties conduct business ethically.”

As work is downsourced through a cascade of subcontractors, some workers have been paid wages below the legal minimum or seen their incomes decline over the years.

Berto Gutierrez, who has worked several stints at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Ill., provided ProPublica with a copy of a 2011 paycheck from subcontractor Eclipse Advantage. The check shows he was paid only $57.81 for 12.5 hours of work, or $4.62 an hour. Neither Eclipse, Schneider nor Walmart provided an explanation for Gutierrez’s paycheck.

In 2007, Leticia Rodriguez was hired directly by Simos, the logistics contractor running the online part of Walmart’s Elwood warehouse. She said she worked as a supervisor on an annual contract for $49,500 a year, with health insurance. In 2009, when she declined to come in on what she described as a long-awaited day off, she was fired.

Rodriguez returned to the warehouse six months later, this time starting at the bottom, loading trucks for one of Schneider’s staffing companies. She said she was paid $15 an hour, but within a year the staffing company lost the contract.

Eclipse Advantage took over, and Rodriguez went to work for that company. There, she said, she got paid piece-rate, averaging about $9.50 an hour. But six months later, Eclipse left, and she and all the other workers lost their jobs. Rodriguez has since interned at the union-backed campaign Warehouse Workers for Justice, earning $12,000.

Eclipse’s president, David Simono, declined to comment. Simos didn’t return calls. Walmart said it couldn’t comment on the specifics of a subcontractor’s employee but said it provides all its workers opportunities for growth.

‘We’ve Seen Just Ghastly Situations’

Temp workers line up at Custom Staffing near Chicago in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)The growing temporary sector does little to sustain workers’ standard of living. Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data. A 2005 Labor Department survey, the most recent available, found that only 4 percent of temps have pensions or retirement plans from their employers. Only 8 percent get health insurance from their employers, compared with 56 percent of permanent workers. What employers don’t provide, workers get from the social safety net, i.e., taxpayers.

And don’t look for Obamacare to fix it. Under the law, employers must provide health coverage only to employees who average 30 hours a week or more. After pressure from the temp industry and others, the IRS ruled that companies have up to a year to determine if workers qualify.

With the major provisions of health-care reform set to take effect in 2014, there’s growing evidence that 2013 is becoming a boom year for temping out. TempWorks, which sells software that keeps track of payroll and worker orders, says sales to staffing agencies have been going through the roof and that temp firms tell them the uptick is because of Obamacare.

Unlike the way it monitors nearly every other industry, the government does not keep statistics on injuries among temp workers. But a study of workers compensation data in Washington state found that temp workers in construction and manufacturing were twice as likely to be injured as regular staff doing the same work.

In April, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced an initiative to get better information on temp-worker safety. “Employers, we think, do not have the same commitment to providing a safe workplace, to providing the proper training, to a worker who they may only be paying for a few weeks.” OSHA director David Michaels said in an interview. “I mean, we’ve seen just ghastly situations.”

In December 2011, a Chicago temp worker died after he was scalded by a citric acid solution. The skin cream and shampoo factory he was assigned to failed to call 911 even as his skin was peeling from his body. In August 2012, a Jacksonville temp was crushed to death on his first day of work at a bottling plant when a supervisor told him to clean glass from underneath a machine that stacks goods onto pallets — a job that OSHA said he wasn’t trained to do. And in January, a temp was killed at a paper mill outside Charlotte, N.C., when he was overcome by toxic fumes while cleaning the inside of a chemical tank.

“There’s something going on here that needs direct intervention,” Michaels said.

A Temp Worker Bill of Rights

Members of Congress have introduced a handful of bills protecting temp workers in the past two decades. None have made it out of committee. Efforts on the state level have met similar resistance.

Community organizer Jasiela Chaves talks to temp worker Lorne Casey of Lawrence, Mass., inside a Labor Ready office about the state's Temporary Workers Right to Know Law that went into effect on Jan. 31, 2013. (Matthew Healey for ProPublica)But worker advocates and some temp agencies say the Massachusetts Temporary Workers Right-to-Know Law, which took effect in January, provides a model for other states.

That law requires temp agencies to give workers written notice of the basics: whom they will work for, how much they’ll be paid and what safety equipment they’ll need. The law limits transportation costs and prohibits fees that would push workers’ pay below minimum wage. Agencies must also reimburse the worker if they are sent to a worksite only to find out there is no job for them there.

Similar state bills have passed in New Jersey and Illinois in the past few years. But while the American Staffing Association has a code of ethics containing similar guidelines, it has fought against such laws and blocked them in California and New York. “All laws that apply to every other employee apply to temporary workers,” said Stephen Dwyer, the group’s general counsel. “We thought that heaping new laws on top of existing laws would not be effective.”

Even in states that have them, the laws are honored mostly in the breach. For example, Illinois prohibits temp agencies from charging for transportation. But many have gotten around the law by using so-called raiteros, who act as neighborhood labor brokers for the agencies and charge for transportation. The law also requires an employment notice stating the name of the host company, the hourly wage and any equipment needed. Out of more than 50 Chicago-area workers interviewed for this story, only a handful had ever received one.

Passing through Chicago’s working-class suburbs recently, Rosa pointed out the car window to a row of small redbrick homes.

“I’ve always dreamed of having a little house, a really small, little house,” she said.

Asked if she thought she’d ever be able to buy one, Rosa laughed.

“Earning $8.25 an hour?” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”

Back at the temp agency, Rosa continues to wait with about 50 other people.

Around 6 a.m., she again inquires if there will be any work. The dispatcher tells her to give it 15 more minutes.

Then he breaks the news: There is no work today.

Get Involved: Is this happening in your community? What should be done about it? Join our discussion by tweeting us your questions and comments with #TempLand, or send us a tip.

Excellent reporting. It is our tax laws and corporate greed that feeds this system. As a country we have evolved to where corporate profits, stock prices and dividends to investors are 100 times more important than a family, family life and the good of working people. There is absolutely no respect in our tax code for working wages. Virtually all the benefits are given corporate compensation, executive bonuses, benefit plans, stock options & to dividends and capital gains!

“We work very hard to abide by the law,” said Walmart’s Brooke Buchanon, “and we expect all the businesses that we do business with and that they do business with to comply with the law.” Seems to me we heard this line before - from construction firms attempting to justify their hiring of undocumented workers and wage theft.

When the dot-com bubble popped, I went from temp job to temp job. Always sold on how this was “temp-to-perm,” and a good use of my time, as it would almost surely lead to a full-time position. I’ve lost track of how many temp jobs I had back then, but it was more than a dozen in about two years.

Time after time, I’d get the call. This would be the one! There was so much work to do! Temp-to-perm! I’d book 60 hours the first week, 50 the second, 40 the third, then get the call at dinner that third Friday night advising I was no longer needed. I built servers, computers, under the counter water purification systems, even separated nuts and bolts (the most mind-numbing job in the world). It’s been a blight on my resume for the better part of a decade, but student loans don’t pay themselves.

One particularly memorable job was at a Motorola plant in Tempe, AZ. They hired about a dozen of us to work an assembly line building computers. We worked 5AM to 5PM six days a week for about a month and a half, before the OTHER contractors - the ones hired to pack and move each assembly line to the brand new facility in Nogales, Mexico - were ready to pack and move our line. Then we were shown the door.

Irony: If you can’t take advantage of people in their home countries, take advantage of them when they come to America for a better life.

I am appalled at the treatment of these workers and my industry that is taking advantage of those employees.  I have been in the industry for 18 years and now I own my own agency.  I have never, ever worked with client companies who would behave this way, nor treated workers this way. 

That lack of work ethic, or basic morality is what I have fought against, and continue to fight against when I hear from a potential client that they just want a warm body to do the work.  I have never worked with those clients, and the agencies that do are usually very poorly run, and do not follow basic guidelines of employment laws and safety.  The problem that I see is that the companies that utilize these, “agencies,” are just looking for a cheap solution to their labor pool similar to what they are using in other countries.  This is completely unacceptable and an embarrassment.

I served in the military to protect my country from all enemies foreign and domestic.  These corporate entities are a far more powerful enemy than any foreign for we have ever faced.  They are starving this country’s economy more effectively than any foreign enemy could ever dream of.  They are far more un-American than any foreign entity could be.  Yet we continue to vote for their protectors election after election.  Who can ever save us?

Kind of difficult to assure Americans that capitalism is the best system because capitalism allows all to participate in its rewards when Corporate America and their puppets in government are doing everything they can to restrict the rewards of capitalism to a tiny few - and flogging even those rewards out of the backs of the many in America.

Great article! I have been wondering when someone would expose this practice.  To add to your article-there are a very high number of “white collar” workers over 40 who are now contractors.  I am a Certified Paralegal, and along with quite a few of my associates have been lied to, screwed over by multiple “Temp” agencies.  A large sector of legal professionals are temporary.  It is an American tragedy. 

Lots of large corps have been doing this for quite a while-they end up paying the same or more for contractors and they think it will give them an “at will” employment environment until their state votes for it.  It does not help them avoid legal issues and as the contractors at Deloitte will attest to, it actually opens them up to more.

Check out JPMC, Nationwide Insurance, lots of companies in the “ring of fire” industries (financial, insurance, real estate) they love contractors, temps and especially the “guest workers” mostly from India who are supposedly “highly skilled” more than us, but can’t make change in the cafeteria.  The Immigration Bill protects the HB1 workers-that is because the corporations bought that piece.  I am a democrat-does someone think we are stupid.  The temporary workers have been used to skew the unemployment numbers as well-the real number is more like 20%-but the lower numbers are used to pay us all fewer UE benefits, because unemployment is decreasing.  Really, these folks are on crack, and they apparently think we are also.

Congratulations.  Now you know the downside of the laws Congress thoughtlessly passes “to protect workers”—minimum wage laws, Obamacare, etc.  By artificially contorting the market for labor, the legislature creates situations where it makes more sense for people trying to make a profit to circumvent the law.  Oh, sure, blame it all on Walmart.  Why not?  The media loves its favorite corporate punching bag.

I might add that here is an excellent example of what becomes of what you so generously term as “undocumented immigrants.”  Sure—we should grant amnesty and give them taxpayer-funded assistance.  That will make abusing them even easier.  When will the country collectively recognize that people who are willing to break the law to get here are so desperate that they will allow themselves to be enslaved?  And when will we realize that by flooding the market with cheap labor we’re creating this slavery?

I worked as a temp when I was a young man during the summers between semesters at college in the factories surrounding the Detroit area.  This was back in the 1980s.  The situation was the same then as you describe it now.  Unlike these people, I was legal, “white”, and being college educated, so I had a way out.  The scam that was being run by the temp agencies was obvious even then.  The reasons why the agencies were allowed to exist?  Brought to you courtesy of the idiotic laws “designed to protect workers” passed by Congress. 

Funny how these problems didn’t exist before minimum wage laws, isn’t it?

I hate to say it, Geoff, but you’re an idiot! If we just got rid of those cumbersome regulations and minimum wage laws, everything would be great. Right? Those big kind-hearted corporations would do a 180 if we deregulated them even more than we have for the past 30 years. Give me a break!

Go drink some Tea.


I’m afraid that if you believe anything remotely like “deregulation” has been happening over the past 30 years, then… Well, I won’t call you an idiot, but you’re at least very poorly informed. Employment law has become so complex that small business owners are very nervous about employing anyone at all (outside of family members) because it’s impossible to understand all the rules.

That’s not the issue for large corporations, of course. The article describes what the issues are there, having to do with worries about layoffs, unions, workers comp claims, and unfair dismissal claims. Obamacare will be a major driver of a shift to temp work. These are real issues - ask an employment attorney: there are “bad actors” on both sides, and while no doubt there are badly behaved corporations, the search for these “tricky” employment techniques often begins with a well-meaning employee protection/benefit law, exploited by a few badly behaved employees.

Good comment-Geoff and Tom B., you must NOT work in law and you must NOT currently be part of the workforce.  Obamacare is an excuse for corporations to force the workers they have to work overtime for free and to use contractors.  The corporations would like to ground down government so that there are only portions of it left to serve them. 

Actually, the government we have is dysfunctional because it is essentially run by corp lobbyists, and the state we find ourselves in currently is the result of policies started by Reagan and have evolved over the past 30 years.  It takes two wage earners in each household to pay for what one once was able to pay for.  Women track behind men in wage earning, even if we are better educated and more experienced.  The U.S. GDP is 60% debt based-Americans do not need to become indebted if they are paid commensurately with productivity.  Student Loan, Credit Card, Equity Line, Mortgage, etc. are America’s NEW business-creating debt, packaging it (securitizing) and selling it.  If you don’t need a credit card to buy basic necessities such as groceries, the banks suffer.  Right now, houses are not selling, unless they are new builds and the builders finance their overpriced homes and sell the bad debt-that is 1/4 of the mortgage biz now, the other 3/4 is refi’s and those are coming to a screeching halt.  No one is buying enough new cars, credit card and student loans are still filling their tranches.  Citizens in this country need to do their due diligence and identify exactly which corporations are causing harm, then boycott them.  One axis of evil is a web of companies in Jacksonville, Fla that commit fraud upon fraud relative to foreclosure services provided to banks and they also own O’Charleys, Max & Ermas, and a few others.  I will not visit any of these restaurants, just like I have boycotted Wendy;s since they invited idiot Bush to the Ohio hdqtrs. to promote their “guest worker” hiring.  There are other Progressives like me who know that capitalism as we were taught in college is dead; there is only fascism from now on-unless we break up the banks and cut large corporations down to size to provide competition. Anti-trust laws were inconvenient, just like employment law-corps want “at will” employment law in every state.  There are far more “badly behaved” corps than employees.  Corps should be learning their lessons though, the contractors have been ratting them out regarding fraud lately, ask Deloitte and BofA.  The Independent Foreclosure Review was a joke, the OCC is a joke and they are run by the treasury, you can do the rest of the math.  There are NO Loan Mods for screwed over homeowners, Geithner called them “foam on the runway” in order to slow down foreclosures on the runway.  Now large investor groups are buying them all from banks instead of allowing short sales.  There are more foreclosures coming down the pike and eventually they will damage every neighborhood. The banks are getting rich repoing what does not even belong to them-they sold the debt along time ago.

Thank you Linda. Some people just do not understand who to blame in this situation. This is a relevant article, especially now with the recently passed Senate immigration bill. It will fail in the Republican House for sure, and this article explains clearly why. If U.S. citizens are working in these conditions, that is their own fault for not knowing their rights. No employer can legally do these things to a citizen of the United States. They can however, do these things to the “illegals” working in this country. That is why the House won’t pass this bill. Too many rights will be granted, and profits will take a hit. We once fought fascists in this country, now we fight to protect them, as evidenced by Tom B and Geoff’s comments. God help my little boy that will grow up and inherit this mess. I don’t know how much worse it can get before everyone finally has enough of this. It might just be 10% of the workforce now, but soon it will be most of us, that is the nature of these things over time.

Obamacare seems to be driving this move to hire temps. Why this article uses Corporations in its title seems a lollipop to the very progressives who have foisted this on businesses across the board. The new normal elements of greater and greater regulatory and tax burdens seems also to have escaped notice in this piece. Anyway, all businesses are involved in cutting their profile toward government burdens. Even local governments are hiring more part time workers here in California. Very poorly thought out article overall.

First, a large portion of America is uninsured-we need single payer HCI plan.  There are estimated to be 30% of all workers that are now temporary contractors, the staffing agencies are shooting for 70%.  Those percentages also more than likely reflect the uninsured numbers with some adds from regular workers.

The real jobs that are in place pay at rates below what was paid 10 years ago.  The corporations were busy with this agenda before Obamacare ever came along.  I would rather see Single Payer, but Obamacare is a scapegoat for what is really happening, and the road we have all been on for 30 years.  I fear for my two kids as well.  Welcome to Hell!

Clearly the death of the ‘Once Upon a time” America of the cheap oil era is dead and a new very ugly America has evolved. Bye Bye American pie. Education the last answer for American success died ofn the cross of the Ivory Tower diploma mills as China and the Asians shot past the demagogery to a new world of Science bulilding the Chinese prosperity. Will Thorium reaactors fuel the new Asian empire? debute 2017 and form there on an new energy era for the world - will “Alter energy Maps of the Global Village Forever”, change the face of this earth. Asians will take the lead.

It’s worth pointing out that, with some exceptions, most businesses are looking at automation and building excuses to get rid of full-time workers.  If you’re in the vicinity of New York, for example, you probably know a dozen people who lost their jobs in 2009 because of “the down economy.”

The truth is that the companies haven’t needed them for a long time.  Their jobs can be handled more cheaply by computer, by overseas contractors, or by hourly temps.  They were kept on because excuses that wouldn’t harm the stock prices were hard to come by.

Make no mistake, though.  Business has become about squeezing every last penny out of expenses, then wondering why the unemployed masses aren’t buying their substandard product (SUV manufacturers, airlines, genetically-modified food, Hollywood), then crawling to the government for handouts to protect them from the mean people who heat their homes rather than waste money on them.

Before you blame minimum wage laws, give some thought to the fact that companies started exporting jobs long before wage hikes were in the news.

Give more thought to the fact that Henry Ford overpaid his workers by a wide margin, to ensure his business would have customers.  We’re going to call Ford a socialist, I guess…?  Or maybe he was a failure that nobody has ever heard of?

The fact of the matter is that it’s better business—as in a more profitable business—to treat employees and customers well.  Nobody in business today understands that, though, and the entire economy is suffering for it.  401(k)s instead of pension plans only benefit the fund managers, for example, who can pawn off the crap nobody else will buy.  Paying the bare minimum creates ill-will and drives away customers, rather than expanding the business.

That’s the problem with “the market will provide.”  The Market is made up of a bunch of blind philosophers imagining a utopia of robber barons, rather than accountants who can see that the profits lost are more than the money saved.  It’s no surprise that the economy is only barely functional.

The solution, though, isn’t to let the companies act like it’s still 1850, when labor could be treated as a necessary evil instead of human beings.  The solution also isn’t to have the government force companies to act like it’s 1950, when the world offered us no competition and we had all the scientists.  It’d also be nice to not return to 1450, where we gather under a feudal lord for protection in exchange for our entire lives (which is all socialism really is, just with a much bigger manor).

If we’re going to get out of this, the right solution is probably going to be to figure out how to run an economy—a new economy not beholden to dinosaurs—that works with the resources we have, a surplus of non-specialized labor and pervasive information and connectivity.

I mean, you can argue capitalism versus socialism all you want, but the fact of the matter is that “capital” isn’t what it used to be.  Both philosophies are predicated on finite resources that can only be scaled to production with large amounts of money.  But running a newspaper no longer takes millions of dollars; you can start a blog for free, essentially.  Manufacturing locally with a 3D printer or CNC router can be done in the back room of a coffee shop, rather than a factory.  Neither philosophy is going to fit the facts for much longer, just like neither really fit the facts until the 19th century.

Temp labor like this is a big symptom of a massive underlying problem, in other words.

Single payer health insurance, indeed. Just what Father Obama wants. A)He can put millions more people on the payroll and declare a ‘victor’ for employment.
B)He can put private industry out of business, his real goal toward not socialism but communism.
C)We’d soon find ourselves like Greece: no money, no doctors, and loooooooong waits to see a doctor.

No thanks!

Hey, Alyce, you have GOT to turn off Fox. Their is no single payer health insurance. I wish there was. Government has been cutting jobs. It’s one of the main reasons the unemployment has declined so slowly. During other economic downturns, the government employed MORE people, especially in a downturn as bad as the Bush Recession/Depression.

And if you think Obama’s a socialist or communist, that says a whole lot more about you than it does him. It says you’re a right-wing crackpot. But I don’t think there are any other type of right-wingers.

Get some better talking points.

Mr. Shahislam

June 28, 2013, 3:19 p.m.

Have to get used to this inevitable fact of changed time. Min wages would play a max recovery role.
The gun-business guys (s/w/t of heredity) /advisers of Nixon, Bill, Bush etc. etc. wouldn’t even be able to handle the change this long without causing heinous secret crimes of wars by dishonest means, lies and manipulations of truth!

Barry Schmittou

June 28, 2013, 3:21 p.m.

The leaders of both political parties are protecting multiple insurance companies that ignore life threatening medical conditions when patients file health claims, workers comp claims, disability claims, Long Term Care claims,and claims filed by civilian contractors who suffer devastating injuries while doing jobs that support our troops in war zones. Part of the evidence linked below is from ProPublica. You’ll see the politicians are also protecting a wide variety of patterns of deadly corporate crimes including Wachovia Bank laundering $378 billion for the Mexican cartels that have murdered over 50,000 !! I filed the evidence linked below under oath with two Congressional Committees. I’ve also added new evidence that is in a motion for injunction that is on the docket of the US Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in case No. 13-5614. I will not have time to respond to the political and corporate paid commenters who often attack with lies and obfuscations when I post evidence on Propublica. The introduction to the following website names the politicians of both parties who have ignored many citizens requests for an investigation. Then you will see the evidence I filed under oath and posted for citizens to view online at :

My experience with temp agencies goes back to 1992, when I met a good friend while working at the now-defunct Harlequin Nature Graphics company in Fort Myers, Florida. My good friend and I had both, at different times, been let go and we struggled to find work. I found a couple of steady, wildly denigrating jobs and he spent a few years with a couple of local temp agencies, gathering, as he put it, material for his next novel.
The upshot of all this is the situation we are seeing now, where employers, aided by a government which disparages its own citizens-thus, one can only imagine how even less esteemed peoples are treated, if not for articles like this-have shed any pretense of cooperation or, even, magnanimity towards employees. Gone are benefits, flexible schedules, pay raises and “career” options, replaced by what passed for standard practices during the Merchantilist era.
That there aren’t more whites mixed in with the latinos and others seeking this sort of temp work is probably due to misplaced pride, preventing people from being seen as poverty-stricken, as they take refuge, at various stages of middle age, in their parents’ spare bedrooms or crashing at friends’ homes.
I see all this and counsel my friends in Asia to prepare themselves for the inevitable replication of this business model across the region, especially in China, where this year, almost seven million will graduate universities and colleges, yet roughly only about 15% will find gainful employment, and not always in the sector they chose to major in.
The centuries-old project of refining techniques to manipulate and control economies has reached its zenith now on Earth, as we are reduced-that is, if we are unable to work for ourselves-to taking whatever work we can get, if only to survive, as yclept “Job Creators” refrain from doing their job, so to speak, in a concerted attempt to keep their own levels of prosperity intact. And improve it, at our expense.
I can’t fault Karl Marx for pointing all this out; I just shake my head at how many people refuse to consider his thoughts when pulling their “Joe the Plumber” routines, standing up for berserkers who would, like Gary Oldman in “The Fifth Element, not hesitate to fire millions, to save their own bottom line.
And no, I don’t feel better getting this off my chest.
John F. Kennedy once remarked, “If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable.”.
Could this be the future of work? War, as entertainment? In lieu of no jobs at home?

Welcome to the new America.

Heard a Senator say the other day that business will skirt Obamacare tax by hiring illegals. Great low wages for illegals, no work for the working class. Spreading equal poverty.

So now there is a mechanism that takes money off the top of labor, why is this ok when a corporation/company does this rather than when a labor union does it?

Just wait until ObamaCare becomes the law of the land, more and more Americans and legal immigrants will have their hours cut and/or eliminated in order for businesses to stay afloat, and I’m not talking about big rich corporations I’m talking about the majority of the service sector and small businesses who need every penny they can save just to break even every month.

Amen, John. A great summary of the problem.

I remain amazed that the focus is turned to the blight of illegals when there has always existed a harsh life for mining families of the Southern coalfields. I suppose that keeping the lights on for the privileged did not peak interests perhaps progressives numbers were less back then.

Temping is the new slavery system. I have been working as a perma-temp for the last 2 years.  It started when I was told by a temp agency that there was a permanent position working for a difficult attorney at a law firm and surely I didn’t want that job. I said who cares, we have children and my husband just lost his job, I’ll take it. But after months of asking, the job did not become permanent. Though the law firm was happy to have me successfully babysit their problem partner they were even happier to have me sit side by side real employees and paying much less for my services.  The temp agency, my pimp, took almost half of the money the law firm paid them. In return I received no benefits, no sick days, no vacation.  When the law firm had a holiday, merry christmas, I made less money that week.  This temp agency had no interest in getting me a permanent job since after 3 months of pimping me out, they can’t collect a finders fee if the law firm hired me, so they happily set me out to pasture as their cash cow.  When the other secretaries took off for any of their many vacation days, I did their work.  I was like Cinderella and the other secretaries the mean stepsisters.  I was told what to do, when to do it and I knew not to complain because I could be gone the next day.  It was like a 2 year interview. I had to hope that I would still have a job the next day and pray that one day they would hire me. So in addition to the unfairness in income and benefits, temping creates an uncomfortable two-tier society at the company. I could work there but could not become a member of the club.

A powerful and eloquent comment, Ruth. It is a crying shame, not only for you and your family but for society, that your obvious gifts are not being better utilized and better rewarded.

I am a Certified Paralegal and many of my associates who all work for different agencies have all been fed the same line.  We hate these vampires and work with them very carefully.

Invest in a tape recorder.  Depending on the law in your state, it is legal to tape conversations that you are a participant in without advising any other participant.  We all have invested in various spyware; pens, tape recorders, etc. and NEVER talk to any agency without tape, never work at any job with taping meetings, etc.  It is truly a sorry state of affairs-but these agencies are “vipers” and we like to be sure we are “snakebite”  proof.  We have been cheated out of overtime, passed over for inside jobs, we usually work circles around even permanent employees, and are fearless when working with abusive management.  Contractors are treated like trash, and literally, even employees who work on the Trash collections trucks, and the landscape staff we can see outside the floor to ceiling windows at the prestigious firms we work at, make MORE money and take less shit than we do. 
I believe that litigation is in the near future for some of these agencies and firms who use them, especially the ones skirting law, especially involving the issue of agency employee and the fine line of that employee actually via law regs, IRS rule, being a Company “employee” of over a year who is entitled to a full time position and benefits.  The use of temps does not really negate legal exposure of the actually Company employing contractors, it just opens them up to “different” legal exposure.  The “Temp” agencies have sold a bill of goods to the Companies that “temps” are cheaper, easier to use, easier to get rid of, etc., except that none of these are really true.  The use of contractors/temps have actually “exposed” companies like Deloitte and other companies to “massive legal exposure” because temps have no loyalty, and especially in the area of law, we apparently have higher standards of ethics, which is not a particularly high bar.

Everyone should also send their legislators a clear message that allowing corporate America to continue using HB1 guest workers, outsourcing SHOULD NOT be protected in the Immigration Bill currently up for vote.  Two issues can be corrected; 1) If it is ILLEGAL to outsource, offshore and invite guest workers in for U.S. corporations-Unemployment would decrease drastically and immigration problems would be decreased.  We do not need borders to keep illegals out, we just need to remove the reasons they come over the borders, including via by plane from India by invitation of the corporations.  They have NO high level skills that Americans do not have or could not be trained by the same corporations;  the corporations are addicted to cheap labor, they help them with some legal “rehab.”

I feel for you Ruth, we are also over 40, another problem, for you as well if you are over 40.  We are experienced and more expensive.

Also, we communicate with the agencies via email to cement whatever they have told us and force them to provide info on the employer, the specific criteria and job description, rate of pay, length, etc.  If you are on unemployment and they lie you into a bad position, it is difficult for you to leave and return to your benefits.  There are not many benefits for us anyway since the “Unemployment Rate” is a figment of someone’s wishful thinking-it is more like 20-25%, if it was what they say it is, the economy would not be so TANKED for so long.  They are allowed to count temps and seasonal workers in their numbers, and we all know that you can not buy a car, a house or much of anything with what little we make temporarily. 

One other question we should all start asking ourselves is:  Why is the major business conducted in our country BANKING, WALL STREET AND INSURANCE.  LOOK AROUND AT THE LARGEST BUILDINGS IN YOUR CITIES, THE ADS ON YOUR MEDIA.  These businesses could operate in little kiosks in the malls-no one needs the services they offer at such high prices, the poor pay more for their services, when the services can be provided via public coops or government based entities that operate as NON-PROFIT instead of dealers of debt.

Another thing we can all do is ORGANIZE white collar workers who are the new blue collar works and at the same time MANDATE Campaign Finance Reform.  WE will NEVER be listened to unless the MONEY is removed from D.C.  and the perpetual campaigns of EVERY legislator.

Write to your senators and congressmen EVERDAY to first break up the big banks, they other moves can be undertaken.  Force Washington to take up Campaign Finance Reform.  Both parties will have to be forced-again, they are addicted also, and will require “rehab.”

People are already protesting-you won’t see it in the media on TV-they are people, TV is corporations also.

You and I should talk-what part of the country are you in?

I am in Ohio.

I am disturbed by your comment.  First, ObamaCare only applies to companies over 50.  If you are in business and have over 50 employees, and cannot afford to provided legally required healthcare insurance then you should have requested you political party go for “Single Payer” insurance or you should not be in business.  The business owner at the point of 50 employers should be a viable business, if they are not, they should look at the benefits their large overmerged corporate competitors have and how they got those.  Lack of anti-trust law.

Again, Sheila, look at the last 30 years-this has been happening over the past 30 years with the protectionism of the wealthy 1% and corporate American.  We could have all had free college education and health insurance if WE were given what the banks stole from U.S. taxpayers.  The Banks are very busy offshoring profits, work, using lots of temps and even more guest workers, all with NO HCI. 

Employers have been using HCI offered to their perm employees for 30 years to keep their employees at their company, pay low in lieu of the elusive HCI.  If the HCI were taken out of the employment equation, employees would be interested ONLY in pay, and that is all the corps would have as a card to keep them.  If HCI involved NO Profit, it would be affordable and accessible.

Perhaps the HCI mega corporations, Pharma industry and the hospitals are addicted to mega profits that they help pay for campaigns with.  Rehab is in order for everyone who is addicted.

Perhaps everyone should start looking at themselves, and boycott the largest companies hurting our economy to make an example of them: Apple, Walmart, some large banks, who have taken their profits offshore and do NOT pay taxes, offshore their work to workers in other countries who are often abused, and perhaps we should be willing to pay the price for a laptop or IPod that may cost more but made at U.S. factories that employee our friends, families and neighbors.  If we “rehab’ ourselves first, it may be one of the few “trickle down” actions that may eventually work.  Quit looking at everyone else to do the heavy lifting.  Quit blaming ObamaCare, especially if you are using an IPhone or Ipod to do it.

The American worker is just fucked. Squeezed by computers on one side, immigrants on the other other and hordes of cheap labor overseas.  Even lawyers now temp and intern all in the hope of becoming one of the ” elect”.

This country is headed for civil strife within the next. 20 years

The article was written by a total fool who ignored the reality of employment in america.

Companies outsource to temp agencies because of the cost and risk associated with employment, not the cost of wages - ever heard of the trial bar? Let’s have a loser pay rule and we shall see how many of the millions of frivilous lawsuits that are settled for billions each year get to court. Address the cause first and the end result will change. But hey it’s easier to stick our head in the sand and just point at someone else.

Ever heard of unemployment insurance? American businesses now have $90B in UI debt to pay back to uncle sam at 5%. Let’s throw in a vote grubbing idea like the ACA into the mix and while we are at it add 15m illegals on top of it (who will not be eligible for the ACA or the cost associated with it) and see what it does to overall wages and the UI rate in this nation. Especially the UI rate for other minorities.

All employees in this country are protected by the same laws, but the article was written in manner that indictaed that the staffing industry operates under a different set of rules, false they are preyed upon by the same attorney’s who prey upon their customers. Pay the same out of control tax rates as everyone else. Take the staffing industry away and you better book a flight to china because that’s where the jobs will be.

I’ve read some BS in my day but that article now sits at the top of the list. I loved the part about the worker who decided not to show up one day and lost her job, well duh, it’s called a job - not an entitlement.

Great article, convincing research, fearsome problem. Here in Australia can see similar dynamic occurring but slower & off smaller base, as we still have some functional unions. Organise & radicalise or perish, people, go Linda & friends!  As for blaming ‘Obamacare’, pffft, I hope those corporate sockpuppets get stiffed on their piece rates.

I guess someone needs to stick up for the corporations, so there is you.  At the mega corporations I have worked at, there are two things you failed to mention: 1) more stockpiled profits and cash than in the history of our nation, 2) more work to do because wages have not kept pace with productivity-the companies I have been at cut workers, dumped the work on the remaining-forcing them to work “free” for overtime hours and work they take home-up until a few years ago companies “misclassified” workers as “exempt” to scam them out of overtime.  After many what you would call “frivolous” lawsuits, companies could only classify workers using the correct criteria which has always been very clear.  I work in law; there is no such thing as a “frivolous” lawsuit-courts evaluate every suit filed and reject any they deem to be frivolous-even if they get to court, employees are always out gunned by corporate attorneys.

Hopefully, you will be unfairly or illegally treated where you work-but thanks for speaking up for the corporations, they really need your help!

This is an excellent piece that follows up on the Salon article on the same topic.  I am an attorney who represents workers here in Connecticut.  There has been a trend in the courts nationwide to extend the workers’compensation bar (you can’t bring a tort suit against your employer—you are stuck with the remedies in workers’ comp) to the customers of temping agencies, under the so-called “dual employment” doctrine.  This needs to be fought vigorously, as the temporary employer otherwise has absolutely no incentive to create a safe place to work.

First - not every business in this country is a mega corporation less than 1/2 of 1% probably fall into the medium size business category, the rest of us our mom and pops. Stockpiled profits?, yes that would be Apple who because of our horrofic tax code shelter earnings from out of control taxes, the rest of us take it up the yazoo every year.

Every thing else you mentioned was illegal, there are whislte blower rewards so it sounds to me you cound get very rich, if and only if there is any truth to your opinion.

“No such thing as a frivilous lawsuit” really and what planet do you live on, certainly not this one. Work in law? please tell us your occupation.

The author of that non sense took the worst of the worst and tried to paint it as the whole industry - typical liberal propaganda for the cool aid drinkers out there - don’t forget to wipe your chin.

Work comp attorneys are the bottom feeders of the legal industry, “got a job” or “had a job” “are you getting older and have any ailments”. I can extort your employer into paying us off.

I’ve dealt with 100’s of suits from you guys like you and at the end of the day a truly injured worker just wants to be made whole and go back to work. Those that reach out to comp attorneys most of the time are looking for something for nothing, or some way to enable their drug habits.

Why is you want to sue the client? deeper pockets? better chance of settling out of court? whats the motivator? It’s a no fault system designed to stay out of the courts - you guys put extreme hardship with non sense and over the top pronises that rarely come true.

The only thing for ceratin is you delay the ability for injured workers to get on with their lives and take 20-30% for pretty much doing nothing.

I actually had one describe himself as Abe Lincoln, what a joke.

Yes, I have worked in law for quite awhile, I am an ABA Certified Paralegal and if you know the difference-I am the type that is well educated.  You, must be a defense attorney for corporations who have issues.  Maybe you can explain if they are so plagued with “frivolous” lawsuits, why do American workers’ wages be lagging so far behind the rate of productivity?

Every single lawsuit I am familiar with has been a situation when the employer has been in the wrong.  I have worked in quite a few different industries and it is the same.  Every company I have seen cuts corners and knowingly.  There are fewer and fewer internal, in-house counsel or paralegals hired because the average lay worker does not always understand what criminality or skirting the law looks like.  For example, insurance companies cut corners in the area of licensing agents-I have seen two very large entities do this.  I have worked in settlement and watched at every opportunity that insurance companies are more than ready to screw their customers on claims (all types of claims) especially when they have no legal representation of their own.  That is just the insurance industry.  Again, I am only talking about ANY business entity that has more than 50 employees. In the cities I have lived, the major employers employ a substantial number of employees, so while there may be fewer of the “mega” employers, many of them employ substantial numbers of any given community and employ the most egregious employment tactics.  In every major employer I have worked for, and I have worked for some of the largest and well known, they have cut workforce to the extent that employees left can’t do the job of 2.5 previous employees and the employer has NOT restructured Performance Metrics, so employees are at a disadvantage. 

Workers’ Comp. may be different, but I doubt it; I used to draft settlement agreements and provide annuities to structure the award.  There are always people who will take advantage, however, I would say those are not routine and they do not have the same power to reap as much damage as corporations.  Top level management pay increased while workers’ pay plateaued years ago.  How much in profits is enough.

My last two workers comp claims -

1) employee worked two weeks, presented a back injury, doctor said he was drug shopping and would not prescribe, put on light duty, had to leave early one day to go to go to pain management for another work comp claim, pulled medical records, been in ER eight times in last six months for a variety of pain related issues, 25 years old, girl friend (mother of his child) died from drug overdose last year. His attorney was relentless with demanding this that and the other. I told our attorney there would be NO settlement, he needed help not someone to enable him like a WC attorney. He will be dead in the next few years no doubt. Hopping that his attorney would recognize this and want to get this guy in treatment, completely ignored our request and opinion. If it gets in one of liberal courts I’m done, settled with him for a few thousand, watching the obituaries.

2) Massive Carpel Tunnel in both hands after working three months (impossible it came from our employment), instead of spending $30K to fight it and maybe win I offered to pay for the operation but no settlement on the end of it, he complained the pain was just too much,  he thought about asked how much it would cost, I responded around $10K and he asked if he could just get the money.

This is our WC system in a nut shell and these are the types of claims that consume the majority of expense in this nation and this is one of the reasons employers use the staffing industry - so they don’t have to deal with the massive amount of non sense that the trial bar creates.

This article does not mention the hundreds of billions of pay dollars that no longer circulate in our local economies; dollars that are sent back to Mexico by the temps.  Money that could create and sustains more local jobs through the multiplier effect.

Richard Wolf the economist rants on and on about this, talking about the junk food companies that strip mine our local economies of money by sending it back to corporate headquarters. He then goes on to defend illegal immigrants as part of the working class and ignores the quantity of money they remove from not only our pockets as teenage and older workers, but from our local businesses and tax base.

M&M/Mars was notorious for this. They would hire people for the maximum part-time hours, then can them for the rest of the year, then rehire them come January.  They were caught though, and in the future, are being checked.

What I would suggest is to get rid of the temp worker system unless the job is less than one week (like if someone is moving out and needs a mover).  Any job that is more than a week should require payment of a proportional amount of a full year’s workers benefits.  With Obamacare, they could pay the government back for the health insurance premium.

I find it very sad when I see someone doing temp or contract work, when others do the same jobs full-time.  I teach college full-time, and have friends who teach four adjunct courses per semester for a fraction of my pay and no benefits, not even unemployment.  Something is wrong with the system.

I like your plan, question is are you willing to pay $14 for that bag of M&m’s or $2700 for that iphone in your pocket.

Where does the money come from?, your plan does nothing but eliminate small buisneses ability to compete and ultimately sends jobs overseas. But hey it makes you feel good to say it.

While you’re at it why don’t we raise anyone who works at your university, ie janitors, clerical, admin, etc to $150,000 a year. Seems fair to me. Regarding M&M / Mars - there is no such thing as maximum part time hours unless it was something a union negotiated. How about this - maybe the candy business is seasonal, which requires flexibility. You know, maybe they sell more in the summer.

Obamacare is a nightmare for entry level employees - guess what, the normal work week come Jan 1 2014 is going to be 29 hours. Businesses will hire more to get the same production as well as charge more - hello china - at the end of the day the guy getting 45 hours 40 straight and 5 overtime at one job is going to have to work two all at straight time. But hey, it got him re-elected. Obamacare is a nightmare even the unions want no part of it.

As far as your friends working more hours than you and you getting paid more - just cut them a check out of your own pocket - it’s no different than what you asking everyone else to do. I sure as heck hope you don’t teach business.

Again, you may want to look at what has been happening to labor, lack of regulations in all areas relative to corporate operations, especially banking and Wall Street, who have caused massive transfers of wealth and all at taxpayer expense, but for the past 30 years the results that we are experiencing now, were in progress in a million different ways; repeal of Glass Steagall, passage of new bankruptcy law, securitization of many types of debt, wages failing to keep pace with either the cost of living or corporate productivity, and the increased need to become indebted and indentured servants.  I just heard on the news that it is much less expensive to give birth in other countries, especially Great Britain and the mother is kept in the hospital for a week as well as provided with ample time to be home with her newborn.  The U.S. pays more for health care and receives the least in actual care-this has nothing to do with Obamacare.  As a women, I am glad Obamacare provides for free exams, cancer screenings.  The Republicans are working diligently to obliterate Planned Parenthood; every women should have free birth control and until men can give birth, should have no voting rights to control what we do with our bodies.  I would love to see some men give birth; if they could there would be free birth control and an abortion clinic on every corner, because what would happen if they forgot to take it or use it.  Most benefits are paid to women and children in this country because there are some men who do not do their fair share, I know because I was married to one of them.  I need to get off of my rant, because all of this is ALL connected-corporate America also pays single women with children less than her male counterpart.

I wish this was as simple as “what is wrong with Obamacare?”  I think what is wrong with it is that is what not “single payer” and health care should be NON-PROFIT!  That might help.

Aw, Jeff, you just tipped your hand.  You don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m sorry to say.

Those labor costs on the iPhone?  They’re in the neighborhood of six bucks.  The workers get paid on the order of two bucks an hour in China, so we can estimate that as three hours of work.  I’d bet that’s a gross overestimate, but those are the numbers I see reported.

If Apple paid the workers ten times that, that would increase the retail price of the iPhone from $600 to maybe (assuming Apple preserves their 300ish% profit margin) $650.  That’s probably an extra month on your contract.  Is that going to destroy their business when the competing models are in the $200 range already?  Will it tank the economy?

Likewise, a small part of the Bangladesh factory collapse story was that JCPenney grabbed up thousands of units of pajamas at about a buck-fifty per unit.  Again, a higher wage isn’t going to put anybody out of business, because labor costs the consumer next to nothing.  It’ll just dent the earnings a tiny bit, at most.

Linda, I’d go the opposite direction on most health care.  Flood the market with licensed doctors (over the AMA’s objections) and let them figure out what to charge.  The problem isn’t working for profit.  It’s the fact that a doctor will charge thousands of dollars to tie a broken arm to a splint and give you an aspirin.  It’s that we pretend that a lot of low-level problems can be fixed faster and just as well by a Boy Scout or grandma.

Anything more complicated, though, I’m happy to go single-payer.  Competition and cancer treatment seems like it’ll go badly, for example.

Flooding the market with more docs is one method.  “Cancer Treatment” versus Cancer “Cures” is an issue.  If anyone wanted to cure cancer, it would surely “hit”  the medical industry.  There are actually authorities are can cure cancer, but not with “Western” treatment that kills more patients than it could cure-cancer “treatment” is a business model, not medicine.  Diabetes can be cured also; obliterate the inner isles of every grocery store and stop processing soda products.  While your at, stop producing “cancer sticks” and you are well on your way to drastically lower costs.  Read some of the Gerson documentation.  With the creation of a worldwide regulatory entity to control all non-traditional medicine, there will be an attempt to veil anything other than “Western” cancer treatment because of the damage to the business model.  Our business models in the U.S. involve medicine, insurance and banking, they are all protected.  What else is there?

gregg dourgarian

July 2, 2013, 11:41 a.m.

Yeah, it’s all so disgustingly bad.  I’d go back to Mexico myself if it weren’t for the long line of other cars ahead of me at the border.

At least we agree that a single payer plan should be non profit. But that will never happen - the AMA, Big Pharm, and the Hospital association would not allow it. Sorry you married a bum.

As someone who works in Labor and Employment Law, these changes to temps started a long time before Obama was even a community organizer.  The idea that Obamacare (it’s remarkably stupid to call it that, since it is nothing like what Obama originally proposed-more like what the republicans realized they would have to give in order to avoid universal healthcare, like all the other civilized nations on Earth) started the corporate move to temps shows these people have a memory like Alberto Gonzales.  They obviously have no sense of history, and can only think what is put right in front of them.

Corporations realized that they had shrunk their workforces to such a degree they couldn’t meet demand.  And as long as they can keep unemployment above 4%, they will always have a base of temp workers who need to at least feed their families.  Forget about healthcare or retirement.  It’s not their problem.  But it will.  Sooner than they probably realize.  The backlash IS building.  What’s good for business doesn’t necessarily mean its good for America. 

Those of you who want to go back to the “good old days” seem to forget that the good old days included things like pensions, affordable healthcare, a sense of responsibility to the communities companies do business with, and a president who warned of a corporate oligarchy being the biggest threat to democracy.  And he was a republican.

Did it ever occur to all of you lefties that your support for illegal immigration led to this? Because it did and you are the ones who created this giant pool of cheap and labor. Of course business takes advantage of that pool. They must, or die, because the laws of economics are as remorseless as all other natural laws.

We on the right have repeatedly told you that letting in untold millions of illegals would seriously damage the employment prospects of the native born poor and working classes. We told you to disregard all the crony capitalists pressing for cheap workers. We told you that labor shortages caused by legal immigration only would push up the wages of labor.

We have been telling you all of that for 30 years, but noooo, you’re so kind, so humanitarian, so multi-culti, so caring, so full of “feelings” and so unbelievably damned stupid. One of these days the poor Americans whom you have betrayed will figure it out.

Corporate greed. How about politician greed? It’s their greed for office, for taxpayers’ largesse, for power and money that drive them to pass thousands of pages of laws without reading or understanding the implications of those laws. Now, amnesty for illegals. How the hell could illegals find jobs? What about those temp workers, where are they going to put them? Do they really think expand welfare payment and disability qualifications will solve the problem? Do they ever consider human dignity?

Oh, those corporate greed? Why don’t politicians take them over and run them for the good of the workers? Like Mao’s China?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Temp Land

Temp Land: Working in the New Economy

The growth of temp work following the Great Recession is harming workers and burdening the economy as a whole.

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