"Everyone Only Wants Temps"

In Mother Jones, Gabriel Thompson goes gonzo with a stint doing "on demand" grunt work for one of America's hottest growth industries: temping.

I grab a chair from a stack in the corner and take a seat, studying a sign that implores me to be "true" and "passionate" and "creative." In reality, passion and creativity have nothing to do with it. Labor Ready provides warm bodies for grunt work that pays minimum wage or thereabouts. "Here's a sledgehammer, there's the wall," is how Stacey Burke, the company's vice-president of communications, characterized the work to Businessweek back in 2006.

Read the whole piece here: "Everyone Only Wants Temps" (Mother Jones).


      1. “PMG’s clients are able to rapidly expand their workforces during peak times, and to downsize at any time…hassle free.”

        They make it sound so good…

  1. It’s middle management mentality.  They think they can hire the same workers for a fraction of the price, so why not fire their current staff?  Only too late they realize that temps are about as invested in your company as you are invested in them, and the quality of the work suffers.  If the job was really menial then you can get away with it, but for anything that requires skill or problem solving going for a temp can be a real risk. 

    1.  The current mindset to labor ignores the wider contributions that employees make right along with the costs that unhappy employees incur on the system.

      1. Good luck growing your company on a constant churn of inexperienced workers.  Ultimately your staff is your most important resource.

        1. Growing the company???
          Growing the profit. Whether a company grows or withers doesn’t matter. It’s profit that counts.

        2. And for positions that grow the company, that require any sort of skill at all… you dont use these types of workers. You actually hire staff, pay them more, and make them happy so those jobs are done better. 

          These jobs are not those jobs though. For some jobs, like most every one mentioned in the original article… they’re jobs of short duration, and/or they dont require much in the way of special skill or experience at all. 

    2. Small story: I remember waiting in line at a closing CVS drug store and the manager was talking with one of the customers. “Man, its sad this place is closing. What are all the employees going to do?” the customer said. “Well,” the manager began, “its not like the company owes the workers anything. They were hired and now the job has ended. That’s business.”

      I wanted to jump in and say, “You saying that means the company has won. By placing no value in their workers, and people working for them thinking the same, stuff like this is nothing. There used to be a time when company thought of their workers as more than just pegs in the machine. They were an investment. Now that concept seems to e a liability. You have just proven their point.”

      A big problem we have now in this country is we are made to think work does not matter, only management. That’s the issue. It’s sad really, because now not only the management think that, but beginning workers do as well.

      1. “There used to be a time when company thought of their workers as more than just pegs in the machine.”

        When was this?

    3. Somewhat deeper, I’m afraid.  With every restructuring of the job market in America, since the “official” jobless recovery circa 1987-1992, as more jobs have been reduced (that is, full-time, year-round positions) in number, those remaining have been restructured to temp jobs.

      At least, in 1990, the honest French government announced that one-fifth of the jobs there were being restructured as temp jobs.

      1. The EU Temporary and Agency Workers Directive guarantees temp workers equal pay for equal work. It was passed in 2008 after having been blocked by the UK, German, Danish and Irish governments but not the French.

  2. This was an amazingly badly written article:

    a:  Labor Ready can’t be exploiting the workers that much if their profit is $30M on $1.3B in revenue.  That says that 98% of the money they get from the employers goes out the door.  Even if we assume another $60M in wasted compensation to executives, thats still 94% going to the employees, taxes, and the costs of running the business.  

    The cost per hour of an employee when you add in unemployment, workers comp, social security, etc, turns a $8 minimum wage employee into a $15 employee, so it looks like Labor Ready is 

    b:  And they are on a strict pass-through basis.  If “show up at 7:30”, all they need to do is charge their customer for 7:30…  Its sloppy and illegal and they need to stop.  But stopping wouldn’t actually cost them anything!

    c:  The jobs actually described are real temp jobs.  These aren’t permatemps, but real temps: a few days here, a few days there.  Its remarkably costly if a company wanted to legally hire someone for 3 days temp work.  Thats the value add of a company like this.

    d:  Half of the workers profiled are otherwise unemployable!  Who would take a risk on a recently-released-from-jail drug user.

    I would love to read a real investigation:  How much systematic underpaying occurs?  Is it the fault of Labor Ready or the companies using Labor Ready?  How much does Labor Ready charge per hour?

    1. I disagree with you assessment. 
      First off, profit doesn’t say a single thing about if a business is exploiting workers.  This company might just be massively bad at managing money.  Or maybe the exec compensation is moderate but they’re paying huge returns to investors.  There is also nothing about the business lifestyles of  the management–are they flying around in a corporate jet to make big deals?  We just don’t know.
      Note B is correct…unless the end employer is trying to game the system.
      And at the end of the article, they specifically note someone who has been working a full year at one location as a temp.  How is that a few days here and there?

      1. The returns to investors are paid out of profits. But you’re right, the overhead costs and management salaries could be high.

    2.  I think you’re pretty off-base there. I’ve been working office temp jobs for the past two years, and there is no question that it’s an exploitative system–and not just for the workers, for the businesses that are using them. Now, there’s a place for temp workers– replacing vacationing employees, covering unexpected rushes and the like. But often you’re employed as a permatemp, working four, five, six months at a job, doing the exact same job that someone else is getting paid %50 more, with no benefits, no security, an no negotiating power.  It’s stressful, exhausting, but often the only way you can make ends meet.

    3. a It may not be a terribly profitable business, but that has nothing to do with whether they are or aren’t exploiting workers.  It just means that the profit margins in this business are thin, which isn’t all that surprising given the commodification of this kind of labor.  I’d actually argue that the thin profit margins are likely to lead to more exploitation, since there’s more pressure to keep costs down than if it were a business with fat margins, which brings us to…

      b There is a very real cost of passing through the charge for showing up at 7:30, which is that the client will switch to a different temp agency.  This is exactly the kind of area where illegal exploitative practices can easily creep into a business like this.  It’s not that the business itself has a policy of violating labor laws, but that they’re under enormous pressure to please clients and if that means encouraging temps to show up super early without pay, the low level dispatchers who are telling them when/where to be are likely to save their job before they save the worker a half hour of pay.

      c Some of the jobs are real temp jobs, but it sounded like there were other folks there who were perma-temping.  It would be interesting to see more of a breakdown, though, as I suspect even some of the longer term assignments would still fit the “temp” model.  In other words, I mostly agree  with you here.

      d No arguments there.  But regardless of how high risk an employee is, it doesn’t justify wage theft (assuming wage theft is actually systematically occurring and not a handful of isolated incidents).

      1. Since Labor Ready is not the ultimate employer, I think the more correct way to phrase it is that their clients are exploiting workers and Labor Ready is the middle man.

    4. Just for fun, I looked up TBI’s most recent quarterly SEC filing. Not that accountants can’t be creative in filings, but let’s see some numbers.

      Last quarter, they took in $311 million, and netted $1.5 million from that (a net profit margin of 0.5%: horrifying).

      They list cost of services as $232 million, meaning 75% of everything they make has to go to pay for the cost of what they provide. What this probably means is that if a temp makes $8/hr before taxes from Labor Ready, Labor Ready is paid $10.70/hr by whoever hires the temp. 

      Of the remaining $79 million, $72 million goes out the door for “selling, general and administrative expenses” which generally is accountant-speak for advertising and salaries.

      Of the remaining $7 million, the rest is whittled away by depreciation and taxes. Depreciation is basically what the government lets you subtract from income because, in a sense, in using equipment, or even just keeping it around gathering dust, equipment drops in value until it’s pretty much worthless. So they let you subtract that out of your income before you pay taxes.

      So going back to the “is Labor Ready screwing their temps”… the answer is, probably not. If they can give 75% of what they take in to temps, that’s actually quite a bit. In point of comparison, although probably apples-to-oranges, Google gives 33% of what they make from ads to the websites that host ads.

      On the other hand, “do Labor Ready buyers screw Labor Ready”… the answer is, in many cases, probably yes, and in some cases Labor Ready may pass that screwing on to the temps. The case where a worker has to be onsite half an hour early but is not paid for it is a case where the buyer saves money by not officially reporting that half hour, and yet Labor Ready knows about it, so they’d have to be complicit.

      So anyway, that’s my take-away.

      Another question you might ask is, if the government lets you depreciate, then the money’s still there, isn’t it? Well, yes. If we go to the cash flow statement which shows where the money goes, you’ll see that the depreciation amount gets added back in. But that also gets whittled away by “provision for doubtful accounts” (i.e. buyers skip town), and stock-based compensation (stock options for the 1% — $2.9 million of it). Also they get to count income that they haven’t yet received (i.e. bills to buyers that haven’t yet been paid). And a bunch of other things.

      They don’t pay a dividend, so the ordinary investor isn’t getting anything else other than stock price increases, if any — and unless you bought at a dip right around the first half of 2009, you’ve made crap-all.

      In the end, they put $15 million in the bank. Which isn’t that bad. TBI has a quarter billion in the bank in total.

      But that’s only in the last quarter year. Over the past five years, they’ve pretty much put zero in the bank. At least they haven’t been burning money. But really, if I were looking at this company to invest in… I’d stay far away.

  3. I’m sure there are plenty of people who’ll just say “Shut up and be happy you have a job!”.  Welcome to America’s race to the bottom.

  4. It’s very hot here in Phoenix during the summer. So I hibernate during the day and shop at night. The only store close to me is a Walmart. I usually go about 3 a.m. which is when the stock crew is in full swing. The entire stock crew seems to be one step above vagrants. Long stringy hair and beards, a canvass of tattoos & piercings, unbathed stench along with a gang of workers in casts and neck braces. 

    The other day I asked to speak to one of Walmart’s managers, they had one guy, who was at least 400lbs (dressed in clothes way to small for his size)  that had very large open & weeping sores on every part of his exposed body, the worst was his scalp, dripping fluid all over his collar. I demanded that he be asked to leave immediately or I would call 911. These people who fill these types of “temp” jobs like these night positions where they are hidden from public, are right at minimum wage and without insurance. 

    I can’t shop there anymore, the human desperation is stifling, like drug addicts fiending on a street corner.

    1. So thanks to you, these desperate folks may no longer have jobs.  Nice work.  You really stuck it to the man.

      Did it occur to you that Wal-Mart may not be responsible for the choices that left the people you describe marginally employable?

          1. The other day I was at Walmart, around 3.a.m. I was amazed at how liberal and humane the company is!  I saw so many homeless people working, even one guy who was covered in sores.  A few of the other workers could barely move, they had neck braces and casts on. One guy, with long greasy hair and beard,  skin & bones, with piercings, rotten teeth and tattoo’s, someone who obviously  couldn’t get a job anywhere else, trudged along like a real trooper! 

            Thank you Walmart for giving these people an exciting place to work along with protecting them from our evil streets and keeping them safe & dry.

      1. Boy, if one post can get thousands of people fired, maybe I’m a great writer and I’ve missed my calling. Or,  you’re just that type of sad person who blames all the hurt on one person, it’s SO easy that way. 

    2.  I read somewhere that most Walmart employees are not in fact employed by Walmart but by subcontractors that subcontract the employment to whomever they can get cheapest. That way Walmart is not legally responsible for these employees and they can be hired or fired immediately at whim, not paid any benefits etc. I expect this model – if its true – to become more popular as big businesses attempt to make bigger profits. At some point we will need the unions again but until that is recognized by the average person, the rights of workers will be continuously eroded.

      1. Our military does the same thing, some of the “living quarters” are disgusting storage containers, the people rarely get paid what they were promised, are shuffled around country to country, have their passports withheld.  But the military has an “excuse” “Yes, they WORK for us, but are NOT EMPLOYED by us.”   How convenient. 

        It’s our military’s best kept secret. It’s slavery and there’s been rioting too. Some of the riots have been covered up as military incidents, like attacks from the locals, but it’s from the INSIDE. 


    3. Your description of the guy with open wounds aside, why on Earth does it bother you that Walmart hires people with tattoos, long hair, and beards as stockers at 3 am?

      What, people with tattoos, long hair and beards aren’t allowed to work in public? People who look like “vagrants” shouldn’t be allowed to work? Not even at 3 am doing nothing but minimum-wage physical labor?

      I can’t shop there, the human desperation is stifling.” Thank good someone hires the desperate. It sucks that you’re too much of a snob to support places that hire them. You’d prefer them out on the street?

      1.  I can think of many reasons to avoid shopping at Walmart, but the grooming of the workers isn’t one of them.

      2. Wal-Mart is an evil corporation that exploits the marginally-employable by paying them to work.

      3. I believe that this was a scene from Will & Grace, wherein Jack and Karen announce that they’re going to Barneys to get a salesgirl fired because she has a gray tooth.

      4. Maybe you missed the word “stringy”?  Jesus was drenched in rare oils, had fantastic flowing hair and beard;  the top of his head being awash in a glowing golden light and his  feet immaculately clean. Is that what you envisioned? 

        1. That’s one hell of a time machine you got there. I heard P.Pilate was only 4’9″ and wore lifts. Can you check on that for me?

          And Samsams point that vagrants are not unemployable based on appearance is spot on. 

    4. You described a disabled or challenged person, then demanded they be hidden from your view lest you call the police? Why? Were you forced into the Wal-mart at gunpoint and made to lick the man?

      It doesn’t matter why or how the poor bastard came to be in that condition, as that condition is not legitimate cause to deny employment or anything else based on your estimation of what is pleasant or unpleasant.

      I visited a small town in upstate NY a few back, had to go on a late night grocery run from the hotel for baby stuff. While there, at about 10:30pm I saw a woman who was clearly there because she was in such a state she did not consider herself fit to be in public in the day. She too was grossly overweight with skin conditions, and from the backs of her ankles up to where her pants began mid calf she was brown and black with caked dirt, blood and ruin, presumably because she could not reach there and no one gave here a stick. 

      I may make a slight joke here online, but I felt bad for her regardless of her choices which led her there, and I offered her the same treatment I do anyone in public, I ignored her completely. 

      Next time you see someone in such a state remember, there but for the grace of God knows what go you. The least you can do is the least harm you can do.

        1. Yeah it’s a pretty weird comment. Wal-Mart does have a history of using shell companies to bring in fake subcontractors to do work that would be classified as employment, so that they can offer low low everyday prices. 

          But it is the abuse of classification, avoidance of employment standards, refusing benefits and EI and numerous other ghetto building tactics that they are guilty of, not the conditions of those they “hire” to do the work. Except in the roundabout way that their support of consumer society contributes to many social ills.

        2. I’d say he felt the man was being forced to continue working even though he should have been seeking medical attention, because his low pay with no benefits meant that he couldn’t afford to take time off. In the UK I can imagine sending him home might do some good, as he could get free or cheap treatment, but I don’t see what it would do in the US apart from taking a day’s salary from him (and maybe giving him a day’s rest). I’d say Palomino was just shocked at how a large company like WalMart could care so little about their workers’ welfare that they would allow them to continue working when they should be seeing a doctor, and where their workers feel so trapped that this is their only option.

          1. Yes Jonathan, that is a part of it. Years ago I experienced a post corneal transplant eye infection. My eye was weeping and gooey with yellow ick. I worked at an espresso counter for a large grocery chain. I was promptly sent to the doctors. I’m glad they sent me, I almost lost my eye, I was in hospital for 3 weeks. 

      1. How did you come to the conclusion, “You described a disabled or challenged person”? that’s quite a leap, I hope you didn’t hurt yourself.  I can’t help what you shove between the lines. The fact that YOU assume this person is disabled, (even though they are working!) is astonishing. 

        Just because someone is at least 400lbs, wearing clothes much to small for them, and covered in oozing sores, doesn’t, by any means, imply they are “disabled or challenged”. Where’s your frame of reference coming from? Maybe it would be challenging for you to live like this. 

        Maybe, just maybe, this person is a diabetic slob who has no interest in taking care of himself? No, I don’t want to look at someone who doesn’t want to take care of themselves, with oozing diabetic-like ulcers stocking the fucking meat counter! THAT”S why I was going to call 911, it’s illegal for him to work with food. Put him in the garden center!

        1. My conclusion? I used what you wrote. Watch, I’ll do it again. Diabetic you say? Is that a medical condition? It is? It can be debilitating? Why yes. 

          Not such a leap now is it?

          I’m certain if you needed them you cold trot out many other details that were wholly relevant but not present in your post, like this one claim that he was handling food. I’ve never seen a Wal-Mart that sells unpackaged meat, but I’ve only been to Phoenix once, but hey if it’s so hot there they have to sell unpackaged meats licked by poorly dressed obese people, I guess that’s what ya gotta do to offer low low prices everyday.

          If you don’t think it is wrong to have staff that do not work with the public fired because a particular customer is disgusted by their appearance due to a medical condition they suffer from, then you are in at least one respect a bad person in my book. 

          You’re free to express your disgust when you encounter obese people, or sick people, or poorly dressed poor people, or even a combination thereof, but demanding that they be taken off the job at your say so based on those factors is way out of bounds despite your johnny come lately details to justify. 

          If you didn’t ask the man if he was sick and needed medical attention, you were unjustified in demanding he be put off his job based on your assessment.

    5. I took a gig like that when I showed up in a city where I knew no one. I worked with some people like that. Lord you seem to have some issues. Sounds like the guy probably had an illness. Maybe he was working two jobs because he doesn’t have the insurance to get treatment. May you always be so fortunate as to be repulsed by misfortune.

      I’ll also add this: I have a friend who works as a research scientist in a very coveted position. One of his coworkers would fit your description perfectly. I would assume his salary is very comfortable, but he has juvenile diabetes and periodically gets gangrene that has to be cut out of him. I wonder if you think he should be hidden from sight too, or is it only the poor?

      1. Yes,  thought Diabetes, but this guy was working in the food department. 

        I don’t know how my story came across that I was “repulsed”, it must have been my vividness. 

        I guess I should be amazed how this segment of society WANTED to work, as opposed to the able-bodied who don’t want to work at all. I think what bothered me was that they HAD to work for so little, no benefits and for what, just to live paycheck to paycheck?Yes, it was a reality check for me, to see how people are REALLY struggling, but I need to be amazed too by their perseverance and will to survive. That’s what it was, I was walking through a building full of people working to simply survive, not just put a little extra cash in their pockets. Thanks the comment. 

    6. I enjoy all of your comments. My perception may be questioned, but not the scene itself. And the fact some try to explain it away by defining it as “trolling” is your pitiful attempts at trying to turn fact into fiction.  

      I’m not the one hiding these people at 3a.m, it’s the people who employ them. The environment is very strange, weird, Orwellian, and actually fascinating. 

      I shared this story with a women who lives next door. She had a great story of working at a place where all you needed was an I.D. She made cheap tiny American Flags, the kind on toothpicks. She described these same people along with one strange, and illegal business practice; a quota bonus of CIGARETTES, one pack an hour. 

      So explain my story away all you want, even if you have to try and explain me away. Reality hurts, even for those like me who can put it all into words. I worked at a drop in center for a few years and drove a city bus for five, I can spot an American Street Urchin a mile away along with that unique smell of someone who sleeps on dirt & cardboard underneath an overpass.

  5. Soon enough we can get back to the good ol’ days when working conditions and wages don’t matter either! A truly free labor market! And everyone will be so desperate to earn money for their families in a fatally flawed economy in the failing state to say no to the work. Profits for megacorps will be even larger than they are now!
    -MB44 Incorporated
    Edit: Added another exclamation point for continuity. I forgot how excited I was about our failing economy.

    1.  More like serfdom.  You don’t own your labor, you must petition your Lord for the right to leave a job without a black mark on your record, and you are paid half what the company that’s using you makes.

      1.  Well if we’re going to have serfs, I want to be a knight. Or maybe a Baron or something.

        1. Well if we’re going to have serfs, I want to be a knight. Or maybe a Baron or something.

          I think I’ll choose assassin.

          1. We here at MB44 Inc. appreciate your service as the Knight of Logo Creation. Your request for transfer has been granted and you are now President of The Assassinations Division. Your previous contract has been terminated.

    2. Yep, its been re-branded, it’s now termed  “Human Capital”. I hate that term with a passion, it’s so………….cold. 

  6. Ahhhhh, libertarian paradise! What’s good for me obviously works out to be good for you! Libertarian apologists will point out that “enlightened self-interest” obviously means the long view, not this short-term stuff, but really… humans are not psychologically fit to look at the long view. So “enlightened self-interest” must mean forcing humans to think long-term at the point of a gun. Which I thought libertarians weren’t in favor of.

    1.  On the long-term view, I definitely agree  with you there.

      I’m a full time smoker, I enjoy smoking today, and don’t really care that I’ll most likely get lung cancer in 10-20 years.  10-20 years in the future might as well be *never* to me in my personal life.  I doubt I’ll live that long anyway.

      I also have high cholesterol, for which I am supposed to take a gram of Niacin every night.  I can keep taking the niacin which gives me very painful hot-flashes 10 mins after ingestion, to prevent a heart attack or stroke in another 30 years.  I stopped after two weeks.  Pain now, no heart attack so far into the future that I can’t even imagine what my life will be like.

      1. Actually I kinda like the niacin flush. Only once was it a bit painful, like applying way too much pain cream, but I just concentrated on the awesome tingly sensation. It tends to last about 5 minutes or less. Do yours last longer?

    2. I think the goal is diversity. You don’t want people having temp work as their only option, but you don’t want people forced into stagnate careers, afraid to move, unable to find entry because you need 10 years worth of experience, etc. Neither extreme is a good one.

        1. I think we do, and that the article makes a little too much of how evil temp agencies are. The toxic parts occur when people get trapped in temp work, or when companies use temp work when they really need dedicated resources because they think they’re saving money which creates a downward spiral. I guess I think this topic deserves a bit more analysis than the article provides.

  7. I managed a (small) workforce. Every temp I’ve brought in has been a disaster. I’d much rather have a full-time or part-time worker who I can invest in and train, rather than someone whose hand I have to hold who then leaves after a little while.

  8. So…speaking as a woman who has about 7 years (20 – 27ish) consecutive experience (more or less, I moved a lot) working exclusively at temp agencies in the SoCal/LA area, I want to give a slightly alternative perspective. 

    There’s a few benefits to working at a temp agency that get overlooked from the outside world:

    1) Your competition is essentially nill. If you show up in a suit and can clearly articulate yourself with confidence, you win. Straight up. A lot of people show up in over or under dressed outfits wearing way too much perfume and think of getting a temp job as a “last resort”. They act like it and it’s obvious. 

    If you do it right, you’ll get assigned a position that week. The truth is that most small businesses don’t want to waste money on a losing battle against the otherwise unemployable. A large business may not care, assuming the work itself is otherwise menial, but in my experience, the majority of businesses temp companies work with tend to be smaller businesses. Reason being: the cost of searching for a permanent employee tends to be a costly, long term commitment, particularly when that commitment doesn’t work out.

    2) I would say, my primary reason for leaving most businesses I would get hired for is the shift from “You there, do this job and do it well” to “Hey, you seem to know what’s going on, fix my company. Someone ruined it!!” – and in those cases, leaving said company is actually very easy, no fighting for hours, no office politics “pushing you out”, you just let the agency deal with the whole thing. Then, within 48 hours, you get another job in a similar field. If the situation just doesn’t work out (like the employer outright lies to you about the job description, you leave, without giving a sh!t) Win/win

    3) If you know what you’re doing, you wind up making a lot of friends with the temp people, the people placing you in the temp agency get bonuses if a few things happen, like if an employer buys our your contract (which actually happens regularly in smaller companies, since it saves them money by paying you directly), or if you get put on a long term contract, etc – these people deal with employers regularly and are good people to know when you’re making them the $$$. They tend to know the HR people personally and will make personal recommendations. If the agencies think they can use you, you have a strategic advantage to use them.

    4) The key to this is you want to sign up with about 4 or 5 temp agencies in your area and (in a sense) have them compete against one another, just tell them you may have found a permanent position on your own. The agencies make about double what they actually  pay you, so it’s in their interest to negotiate on your behalf. 

    Naturally the downside to this is you get basically zero benefits, the pay can be low, and the positions you can get placed in have the potential to be pretty lame, but if you engineer it properly, it’s a good strategy for finding employment quickly while you look on your own for something stable. Not to mention, we live in an era that values breadth of knowledge rather than depth, it’s much easier to appear more capable on the surface when interviewing when you have had a plethora of positions.

    tl;dr: The goal isn’t to “stick it out” with a temp agency, but to use them strategically to your benefit and ditch them when you find something legit. If you do it right, you can find employment quickly use it as needed and meet some potentially worthwhile contacts in the process.

    1. This is how it worked for me, FWIW. They make a good stepping stone early in your career, during a bad patch, or if you want to drastically change the type of work you do and need to break in.

    2. use them strategically to your benefit and ditch them when you find something legit.

      And, pray you don’t get sick during the process.

    3. It sounds like you did office temp work which is very different from the kind of work you are generally assigned if you are male (in my experience and observation).

      It used to be that when we got jobs we could count on them.  Now we have to work a shitty job while looking for a better opportunity, while maintaining a little buffer money so we don’t go homeless when the temp job is up.

      It sounds like you had a great time temping, that’s cool.  But most temps I know moved boxes for a few days.  They were told to dress nicely, then asked to do things that make you sweaty.  And I don’t think signing up with 4 or 5 temp agencies is a good replacement for real employment.

      I find it odd that people can look at a system exploiting them (as you said, compensation is nothing) and make excuses for it.

      1. Well, the reason I mention that you want to work with multiple agencies is to keep your options open and be able to turn down junk positions without hesitation or fear… not really to just be working multiple part time jobs. I look at the temp agency industry as a way to get your foot in the door with a fairly low barrier of entry, given the competition. The upside of being able to walk away from a job prospect turned bad (eg. moving boxes) for another opportunity in a day or so, is just another perk.

        I’d say, my entire adult life (I’m 29 now) has been one “recession” after another.  I hear people talk about long term careers, company loyalty and all that but I’ve never seen it work out that way. Employers use employees as long as its profitable for them to do so, when it’s not profitable, you’re out of a job, that’s how the game works. The reality is that no job is “safe”, no position is “secure”. When you say that it’s not a replacement for “real employment”, which I take as a job that feels “more right” as the better bet, I totally agree, those are the jobs you should stay with longer. I just don’t believe that holding out
        for some ideal job with the right benefits are the answer. 

        The only thing that you can legitimately count on in any job market is your ability to engineer this exploitative and parasitic system we live in to swing in our favour when we need it. I’d argue the same could be said about the banking and credit industry as well.

        I think that everyone needs to be a bit of an opportunist at heart. To me, that means engineering opportunities for yourself, creating options. I believe people are at their most desperate when they feel like they’re out of options, when they feel “stuck” in a situation they can’t fight or flee.

        I really despised temping truthfully, I had bad experiences with a myriad of companies I wound up working for. Yes, they were largely office positions, but it got me exposure to work one on one with a number of people who became springboards for small business ventures, longer term employment, and other experiences I wouldn’t have had just hitting up interviews. Did a lot of those ventures work out? Hell to the no! But they’re all worth the effort.

        My point was largely that this particular exploitative system is one that, used in such a way, can offer you a launching pad for more options and control. 

        Also… don’t get sick, unless your family or something, anyone will ditch a temp on the spot, makes you look too risky.

        1. Your comments have been quite interesting as I’m considering temping (in SoCal). I’m just curious though, what education do you have? 

          I’ve been counting on my high level of education to keep me out of the shittiest jobs, but I’m not sure how much it may count for at a temp agency.

    4. I’m pretty sure in the UK a lot of agencies make you sign an agreement not to work directly for any company for a certain period after you work for them as a temp. Is this the same in the US? My wife worked in a nursing temp agency and she had to sign an agreement not to work for any of the nursing homes for two years after working there with the agency.

      1. You can sign an agreement. That doesn’t make it legal. You can never sign away your legal rights.

        Agencies normally used to expect some recompense for the lost income once a temp was taken on permanently. This used to be a certain number of months’ payment. Employers would also be expected to sign an agreement to pay the agency if they chose to directly employ an agency worker.
        But this was thirty years ago now.

        I have never heard of an agency preventing employment entirely until a certain period had elapsed.

        1. I had a non-compete like that once.  I ignored it.  Nothing happened.

          I think those contracts might have some teeth if you were a highly-sought software wizard or some other kind of…  I dunno, wizard or something.

          But the former employer has to file suit to make it stick.  And not many of us are worth a few grand in lawyers’ fees.  Fact is, most of our employers wouldn’t even know if we went over to the competition…  or care.  It’s your superego that enforces the contract.

  9. I have worked both sides. I have been at the mercy of the crappy temp system and I have been forced to hire temp workers. In the long run what I found is that most companies start using temp workers after they have an incredibly bad experience trying to fire a full time employee that really merited being laid off.

    Having to fire someone stinks for the company too. You can have a person that hardly shows up, never completes any work related task, breaks every law and company policy, and straight out steels everything not nailed down and when you let them go you are going to get sued by them and whatever government agency or non profit that they managed to stumble into. Then you have 6 – 12 months of paying lawyers and going to court (in one case a company I worked for is still fighting lawsuits from an incredibly unstable, in and out of mental hospitals, 4 years after they were let go and had to be escorted out by the local sheriff after destroying 4 computers and shredding years of company files). These lawsuits are usually eventually thrown out but not before you spend thousands of dollars on legal representation and even more on lost man hours while your staff compiles documentation.

    I’m not defending the temp system in any way because I have been there and it sucks. I have worked for almost nothing and have had to risk life and limb to race back to the employment agency to get paid in the 20 minutes between when the job day ended and the agency closed for the day (if you didn’t make it in time then you didn’t get paid till the next day which is a trick when you are working an hour across town)

    But I also understand where companies are coming from. Litigation has created a perverse incentive to use the temp system and it really does not benefit anyone in the long run. Temps get screwed and companies over pay and end up with temps that are no longer even capable of caring about the job they do because they have been sucked dry from the system itself.

    If you cleaned up the over all system it would help everyone. Actual hard working employees and companies wouldn’t have to put up with people who are a drain on the entire system (don’t be naive there are a lot of those people out there). If a company could hire and fire without running the risk of being sued every singe time for any reason at all then they would not be forced into using temp agencies and the workers would have their own bargaining power to go directly to the company and show them what they can do instead of being dependent on the temp agency as a middle man.

    If you still say that this isn’t a major key issue I would like to present that just last week I spoke with upper level management about a full time employee that we have that has not only completely neglected his actual job, but he now primarily walks around the company literally starting fights and bullying people. This is not an exaggeration, he has stopped completing any job related task and now walks around spouting off the wall insults to people to try to get them to engage in an argument. I was asked a few months ago to start documenting his behavior and all that I got from months of documenting was told that he could not be fired because he was in a protected class (over 40) and the risk of us being tied up in a lawsuit was too high. So the company has resigned itself to employing this person indefinitely even though they know he is no longer productive at all because the cost of employing him is cheaper than being tied up in a lawsuit. In the back of my mind all I can think is that after he finally decides to move on his position will probably be filled with a temp who they can hire and fire without all of this trouble.

    1.  I hate to be nosy, but where is it you work and are you hiring?  As someone who is soon to be over 40 myself, I could use a good twenty-so years of  a Peter Gibbons and checking in with The Bobs every once and a while when I got tired of fishing.

    2. Sounds like your company and others you mention have terrible human resources departments that hire anything that moves.  Also, I’ve fired inept people before and never been sued along with many other businesses I’ve worked with.  Sounds like you guys may have corporate culture issues that go far beyond the norm.

      Unlike what they’d like everyone to believe, corporations are far more litigious than American individuals are.  If you want to look at who gets sued and who does the suing in the USA, it’s overwhelmingly corporations suing individuals, not the other way around.

      The temp system is set up (mainly) for one thing; Corporations want to dodge the expense of providing peasants affordable health care.  Let’s not lie to ourselves here.

  10. Umm, they’re taking temp jobs that require almost no skill and are paid accordingly. Yeah, it’s tough, horrible work that pays very little… but you generally arent supposed to be doing this type of work for months and years at a time.  

    There’s a reason low skill minimum wage jobs pay low wages. They dont require the employee to bring much at all to the table. If it does require more skills, it very quickly becomes more important for the employer to get someone who has additional skill and thus would be worth the further expense. Employers who dont make that leap and continue to use temp workers in more skilled, necessary positions may enjoy a short-term savings, but they get crappy results and longer term it’s just bad business. Most who try that will end up paying a heavier financial price in some way. 

    But I dont see a whole lot of examples in the article for those types of more skilled jobs… Other than the obvious examples of illegal behavior, like screwing them out of actual wage time…  I dont see the “exploitation”. 

  11. It’s time to recognize we don’t need work and we all don’t need jobs anymore. Once structural unemployment becomes impossible to chip away at maybe we can grow up and have a reasonable discussion about how life should actually be lived. The way it is right now is causing an incredible amount of unnecessary pain.

    Do we want future generations to be born only to be chewed up and treated like shit? Is there any moral rule that says we have to live this way? This discussion needs to happen.

    1. My protestant (heh…) work ethic balks. I mean, I’d love to have the leisure to work on the things I want to, pet projects, experiments, research, writing, music, art, all sorts of things I love to work on. Work day and night on. But I don’t get to except on the side of work. But the thought of not working leaves me feeling miserable and hollow like I’d just sort of end up making work out of not working “I have to stare at this wall for one hour to prove I’m not busy” or something. Like, I’d dig a hole in your back yard just to feel like I have something to do. I seriously can’t stand not working.To be honest, I resent sleep and bathroom breaks because they distract me.

  12. I temped one summer, in the first year of my first academic job. I’m pretty sure I’m the only Ph.D. physicist to ever demonstrate brown gravy at a Sam’s Club opening.

  13. I am kind of caught in this situation at the moment. I accepted a temp job just to do something. The job is somewhat outside of my skillset, but I am having a difficult time finding adequate work so I bit the bullet to do something work-related with my life.

    I am currently a new hire for this company, but my coworkers are underpaid and underappreciated. The manager of the department let me know that everybody I work with are idiots. They make a touch above minimum wage, receive no insurance, no pension/401k options, and just hate the job.  The department I work in is a total mess and without the current employees receiving better pay or the temp agency being resourceful enough to find people willing to bend over backward for a company that offers them no security and no loyalty, the system will never change.

    To be honest, I kind of hate myself for being a part of it.

  14. For some reason I don’t understand (maybe it was the quotes), but David Lee Roth sang the title of this article in my head to the tune of Everybody Wants Some.

    Everyone only wants temps… I need temps too!…

  15. My ex works with manufacturing. He used to work for a company that does large scale printing. There’s a job which is just moving cut ends of paper from one spot to another –  no skill involved. The manager of the plant actually started out in this position, so no one in the company saw it as a useless position and the management thought it was a shame someone didn’t see the opportunity in the job and come in and work their butt off and move up from it. Printing is a skilled industry and it’s tough to get jobs like this where you can get on the job experience. But, they couldn’t keep the position filled. HR was spending a lot of time trying to hire for this low wage position and then most people would bomb the drug test or not bother to show up for it and they’d have to start the hiring process again. Eventually, they hired a temp firm to keep the position filled and it saved them a lot of money and time. There are a lot of people out there who want to pick up work when it suits them. 

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