In his 2013 “Temp Land” series, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell investigated a trend of major companies using temporary workers to fill the most dangerous jobs in factories, warehouses and processing plants. He found that, as a necessity to survive, many of these blue-collar hires endure not only the toughest jobs but also disturbingly abusive conditions.
Beyond Caring, a new play opening on April 1 at Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company (previews began on March 22), sheds light on this shadow economy through examining the lives and aspirations of the people who fuel the temp work system. Written and directed by Alexander Zeldin, who sourced ProPublica’s extensive reporting on Chicago temporary workers in his research, the play is the U.S. adaptation of a production originally set in London, with David Schwimmer’s Dark Harbor Stories as a co-producer. ProPublica Illinois – ProPublica’s new regional publishing operation, with headquarters in Chicago – is partnering with the production for a series of post-show “REFLECT” discussions on the play’s content and context.
ProPublica’s Grabell, who was consulted in the adaptation of Beyond Caring to reflect a Chicago context, will participate in an April 23 discussion on Chicago’s history of using immigrant labor to populate its stockyards, warehouses and factories. Louise Kiernan, editor-in-chief of ProPublica Illinois, will join a May 3 panel on the ethics of investigative journalism. See the full schedule of REFLECT panel discussions here.
“We're excited that one of ProPublica Illinois's first partnerships is with such a highly respected theater in Chicago,” said Kiernan. “And we are honored we can contribute to conversations about an issue with great impact here: the exploitation of temporary workers."
ProPublica’s reporting on temp workers included stories about Chicago immigrant workers who hopped into vans to join the supply chains of big-name companies, only to be charged high fees essentially to apply for the jobs and get their paychecks (earning less than minimum wage after paying); workers nationwide who often spend years doing day labor for the same companies without ever gaining full-time status; and a culture in which complaining swiftly gets workers blackballed. The stories spurred promising action: several temp companies in Chicago to begin providing free transportation, Illinois regulators revoked the license of a check cashing store that exploited Chicago temp workers, and this January an Illinois lawmaker introduced a bill to increase protections for the state’s growing army of temporary workers.
Beyond Caring is showing at Lookingglass Theatre Company (Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson). You can purchase tickets here.