Journalism in the Public Interest

Business & Finance

Transcript: Inside the Rise of America’s Temp Towns

Walmart, along with many other American companies, benefits from temp labor. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Last week, in collaboration with Time magazine, we published an in-depth investigation into the booming temp industry, as it replaces a growing number of blue-collar jobs across the country. Roughly 2.7 million temp workers are currently employed in the U.S—a sector that’s “roaring back 10 times faster than private-sector employment as a whole,” wrote reporter Michael Grabell.

Many of those 2.7 million workers struggle to make ends meet, without a steady wage or employee benefits. And they can be working in “ghastly” work environments, as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration director described them, with little protection from injury.

What’s behind this economic shift? And how does it impact the workers staffing “the supply chain of America’s largest companies”? On Friday at 2 pm ET, reporter Michael Grabell (@MichaelGrabell) joined Leone Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collective, to answer your questions. Here are some highlights:

Many workers get stuck as "permatemps." "Many enter with the promise of full time work after a 3 month or a 6 month probationary period - only to find their times extended to the point where they can be at the same worksite for years, but as an employee of the temp agency with no benefits, vacation or raises," Grabell said. According to Industrial Staffing Analysts, only 30 percent of industrial temp jobs become full-time positions.

It's not just warehouses and factories turning to temp agencies. More and more companies are turning to temp labor to avoid the insurance costs and other obligations of a full-time staff. "Now, we see nurses and cooks and professors and others being 'temped out.' This is what a friend of mine back in my farmworker organizing days referred to as 'the farmworker-ization of all of us,'" Bicchieri said. Reader RedFreckle8 also mentioned Microsoft and Amazon as major tech companies trying to cut back their full-time staff. 

It's even harder for temp workers to prove they were harrassed, injured, or wrongfully fired. "The client company blames the staffing agency--while the staffing agency blames the client company!" Bicchieri said of the finger-pointing over worker abuse. As Grabell documented in his investigation, workers rarely report injuries or harassment for fear of retaliation. "Workers often choose paying the rent, buying food, and getting clothes for their children over reporting a workplace accident,"  Bicchieri said.

Read the rest of their conversation here:

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