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The Abuse of Temporary Workers

Temporary work exploded in America after the official end of the recession in 2009. According to ProPublica, there are now around 2.7 million temporary workers in the US, a record high; indeed, they report that “almost one-fifth of the total job growth since the recession ended in mid-2009 has been in the temp sector, federal data shows.” The problem with this is that temporary workers experience serious mistreatment at the hands of their employers.

“Temp agencies”—groups that find jobs for temporary workers—are known for exploitative behavior. For instance, it is not uncommon for a temp agency to offer a worker a job at a decent hourly rate, say $22 an hour. But the worker will later discover that the temp agency is taking $10 an hour from the worker’s paycheck. This is presented as a “finder’s fee” for the temp agency finding the worker a job. Further costs to the worker from the temp agency might come in the form of compulsory training—often of no real value—and safety equipment. The worker’s wage is eventually whittled down to a sub-living standard. This is a classic bait-and-switch strategy that allows temp agencies to present a good wage, then nickel and dime workers leaving them with little compensation for their work.

Perhaps more concerning are the dangerous conditions many temp workers are forced to work in. The Center for Progressive Reform recently published a study, “At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions,” which details the dangers facing temporary workers in the farming, construction, warehousing, and hospitality industries. One shocking statement from this study starkly presents the horrors that certain temporary workers have faced and continue to endure: “These workers face stagnating wages that remain below federal poverty levels, unhealthy work and living conditions that do not meet basic standards, and even cases of modern day slavery.” This statement was about temporary farm workers.

Issues also abound for temporary construction workers’ safety. In many cases, temp workers do not speak English and are not given a bilingual foreman or safety supervisor. This means they are limited in their ability to both learn of hazards at work sites and raise safety concerns. This elevates the chance of such workers dying or being injured by falls or experiencing other harms from workplace hazards.

The health, safety, and living standards of temp workers should not be given little attention because of workers’ contingent status. Now, with almost one in 10 workers getting jobs in this sector, it is clear that it is not a temporary trend as the name suggests.

> Marshall Bertram, Buffalo

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