Ninety minutes into the first day of his first job, Day Davis, a 21-year-old temp worker, was called to help out near a machine at the Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville, Florida. He was killed before making it to his first break.
ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell highlighted Davis’ story in his Temp Land series detailing the dangers of the burgeoning temp industry — which insulates companies from workers’ compensation claims, union drives, and the duty to ensure workers are documented immigrants. Now a new documentary, A Day’s Work, recounts the life and death of Day Davis, as well as the rapid growth of temp work and the unique risks faced by temp workers.
For this week’s podcast, the film’s executive producer Dave DeSario speaks with Grabell about the making of A Day’s Work , the reasons temp workers face greater risks of injury than permanent employees, and who he believes is responsible when grave accidents happen on the job.
Highlights from their conversation:
On finding a surprising narrator for the film in Day’s little sister, Nia
DeSario: We thought we were going do a story that focused on Day's mom because we didn't think that a 17-year-old was going to carry this emotional, complex story. When we got there we realized it was a teenager who stepped up, who convinced her family to share their story for the sake of making sure it didn't happen to anyone else. … In this young, growing movement in this country to improve occupational safety and health, one of the leading voices right now is a teenager.
On the staggering number of temp agencies nationwide
DeSario: To start a temp agency, you need a worker's comp policy and a phone line. There's no regulation, there are no skills, there's no accrediting process, no formal paperwork that needs to be done. … Sometimes it's a storefront, sometimes it's a huge corporate office. Sometimes it's somebody's living room, or sometimes it's out of the back of somebody's van. … When you realize there are three temp agencies for every one McDonald's in this country we really have a problem.
On critics of the film who say they had positive work experiences as temps
DeSario: There are three million people that go to work every day at a temp agency, and most of them aren't killed or injured on the job. … Some people have a good experience, some people have a bad experience, some people have a forgettable one. But one thing that I’m hoping to draw attention to is the way the system is set up, and the way that it's set up is not conducive to the benefit of workers. The longer a worker stays temporary, the longer that they work without benefits, the longer they work without sick days and holidays, the longer that they work in that insecurity, the more money the temp industry makes.