The 4 A.M. Army

Every morning, hundreds of thousands of workers show up for jobs that are unseen, uncertain and underpaid—and vital to the U.S. economy

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Sally Ryan for ProPublica

Temps pay to ride to work on a bus owned by a raitero, or local labor broker.

Eclipse president David Simono declined to comment. Walmart said that it couldn’t comment on the specifics of a subcontractor’s employee but that it provides all its workers opportunities for growth.

A Temp Worker Bill of Rights
maybe so, but a sustainable standard of living is another matter. A 2005 Labor Department survey, the most recent available, found that only 4% of temps have a pension or retirement plan from their employer. Only 8% get health insurance from their employer, compared with 56% of permanent workers. What the employer doesn’t provide, the worker gets from the social safety net—that is, taxpayers.

And don’t look for Obamacare to fix it. Under the law, employers must provide health coverage only to employees who average 30 hours a week or more. After pressure from the temp industry and others, the IRS ruled that companies have up to a year to determine whether workers qualify.

Economists like Susan Houseman of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research predict that 2013 will be a boom year for temping because of health care reform. This notion has even seeped into popular investment shows. Mad Money host Jim Cramer recently said, “That’s why businesses of all sizes are now searching for ways around the law, and the easiest way to avoid paying these expenses is to hire more temps.”

In contrast with how it monitors nearly every other industry, the government does not keep statistics on injuries among temp workers. But a study of workers’-comp data in Washington State found that temp workers in construction and manufacturing were twice as likely to be injured as regular staff doing the same work. Members of Congress have introduced a handful of bills to protect temp workers in the past two decades. None has made it out of committee.

But advocates say Massachusetts’ Temporary Workers Right to Know law, which took effect in January, provides a model for states. The law requires temp agencies to give workers written notice of the basics: for whom they will work, how much they’ll be paid and what safety equipment they’ll need. The law limits transportation costs and prohibits fees that would push workers’ pay below minimum wage. Agencies must also reimburse workers if they are sent to a work site only to find there is no job.

Similar bills have passed in New Jersey and Illinois in the past few years. But while the American Staffing Association, which represents the temp industry, has a code of ethics containing similar guidelines, it has fought such laws. “All laws that apply to every other employee apply to temporary workers,” says ASA general counsel Stephen Dwyer. “We thought that heaping new laws on top of existing laws would not be effective.”

State laws that do exist are honored mostly in the breach. Illinois prohibits agencies from charging for transportation. But many get around this by using so-called raiteros, who act as labor brokers for agencies and charge for transportation. The law also requires a notice stating the name of the host company, the wage and any equipment needed. Out of more than 50 Chicago-area workers interviewed, only a handful had ever received one.

Passing through Chicago’s working-class suburbs recently, Ramirez pointed to a row of small, red brick homes. “I’ve always dreamed of having a little house, a really small little house,” she said. Asked whether she thought she’d ever be able to buy one, she laughed. “Earning $8.25 an hour?” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”

Back at the temp agency, Ramirez continues to wait with about 50 other people. Around 6 a.m., she again inquires if there will be any work. The dispatcher tells her to give it 15 minutes. Then he breaks the news: There is no work today.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit n­ewsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest

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21 comments
SCook
SCook

I would like to point out that what is being described in Mr. Grabell's article is very clearly day labor.  Vilifying the temporary labor industry by implying that all temporary workers are subjected to the conditions and treatment described in this article is ridiculous.  I work in sales and marketing for an extremely ethical staffing agency in the midwest, our goal is to connect people who are looking for work with employers who are seeking good workers.  Admittedly, not all the assignments we send our employees on lead to full-time work, but our employees are told, up-front, if the position may roll to a permanent one. We are also very concerned about the safety and health of anyone we send out - I have personally walked away from business when a potential client does not demonstrate a high level of commitment to the safety of all workers in their facilities.  

Please don't throw the baby out with the bath water!  There are reputable agencies out here who are trying to do things right and who recognize that we are dealing with people not "driving goats"!          

JaneWinzer
JaneWinzer

The main points of the article is a great deal of US work (and likely a growing percentage) is done by thousands of temps that do not get the same protections or benefits of "regular" employees, and  that the responsibilities of management can be shirked through such sub-contracted arrangements. This point is not altered regardless of the education or 'origin' of the employee.  You may wish to dismiss this phenomenon as "the poor always being with us" based on education or legal status - etc., but that does not make the point of the article illogical or skewed. What should be frightening even to those who like to dismiss this reality as 'just for marginalized' workers - is the fact that more and more of us will someday find ourselves one of those 'marginalized' workers. 

Destroyed
Destroyed

At $2.25 an hour the unseen workers are a steal.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

The Walmart heirs are collectively worth more than $100 Billion.

coopyman
coopyman

There have always been temp workers and this has only increased as the total population has increased with a boost from a sour economy. Very few of these workers represent individuals with a degree in business, engineering, technology or the sciences. For purposes of true data collection their background of education and origins should be included in the report. Otherwise it is illogical and skewed.

SimsatSimsatSer
SimsatSimsatSer

I'm no scholar on the subject, being Brazilian and living in Brazil say to the Americans:

In my town (Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil) there are 04 stores WALMART.

At the start of the directors of the stores wanted to keep the same principle practiced in the United States (Temporary Work).

The labor courts in Brazil did not allow it, they said:

"Temporary work should be for only 1% of people who are working in the shops, when a company wants to transfer responsibility to another company labor means she transferred the rights of these people to another that often has no major commitments to society. "

That made diminish this problem that generates a large company in the United States today.

Not only "This is Chicago, New Jersey, Boston."

If the labor courts in the United States are not subject to warn the situation will get worse every day, then comes: Atlanta, New York, Ohio ...

kevinjohnson01720
kevinjohnson01720

Some of the article's complaints seem legitimate, but others seem a bit odd.  

Requiring workers to ride in company transportation to a job site undoubtedly causes an inconvenience to some workers, but it seems necessary for companies to be able to ensure all workers show up on time.  


The oddest complaint is probably about Leticia Rodriguez.  According to the article, she was making $49,500 with benefits.  She refused to come in when called on her day off so she was fired.  As a worker (albeit in a higher paid industry), I've had to come in to deal with emergencies and do things that have to get done on my day off.  While it sucks, I don't consider it abusive to be called in when the company needs me on my day off. 


But even stranger, it says she was rehired and had to start "at the very bottom" at a rate of $15/hr.  That's pretty solid pay to load trucks. 

Rhomega
Rhomega

Wow, it's like they're one step away from the old British workhouses.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

And U.S. companies are sitting on trillions of dollars of uninvested money.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

Shame on Walmart, Nike, PepsiCo’s Frito-­Lay division

dana74
dana74

@SCookWhether or not your employer could be deemed ethical, none of the companies you represent are.  They don't want to have to pay benefits, pure and simple.  I've been a temp worker and it doesn't matter if they tell you up front that it likely won't be a permanent job, that doesn't make your life any easier.  You take whatever you can get because it's that or have no money which in turn means no food and no home.

I would LOVE to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Dear America:  Don't tell people to "just get a job" when you won't stand with us and protect our right to KEEP a job.  And what in the world are we working for when we can just be thrown away like so much garbage?

kevinjohnson01720
kevinjohnson01720

Also, a fee of $8 to get driven to work seems fairly reasonable, given gas prices.

mrtony60
mrtony60

@Rhomega 

Frankly I'm not surprise at the state of affairs of the  temp and the cheap labor market.  I think many of us choose to not knowledge that reality that there is a very dark side to our "American way of Life" there is and has been a great human price that has been paid.  Furthermore we cannot sustain this kind of consumerism with out the possible demise of country or even this planet.

There may be under currents of societal damage now that cant be reverse. Time will tell. Certainly when just a hand few of families in this countries manage to get even richer in the last 10 years there is something wrong with that picture.  And getting richer as I write this reply! what does that mean for not only the temp labor force but for the rest of us? Unless you are part of the super super rich pact that is running this country or for that matter the world you should be concern. Forget race issues!  I actually think it's a class issue and only getting worst. I actually think we have more of an aristocracy   in this country more them a Democratic system.  Yes there are many that have "made it" here but look deeper and will find and discover that a small group of people are in control. Many of them living in New York City. I'm not so naïve to think multi nationals are in the charity business what so ever!

Destroyed
Destroyed

Never buy from those morally bankrupt entities.

Slave labor at its finest.

lurch
lurch

@Leftcoastrocky 

You would think since Nike, PepsiCo & Frito-­Lay (corporations) are people that they would feel shame.  But no, nada, no shame.

Libtards-UNITE
Libtards-UNITE

@Leftcoastrocky Yeah, but in the same breath, you are happy that you can get your cheap goods from these companies.  Are you happy to pay 30% more for your Pepsi and sneakers to make sure that guy with no education that entered our country illegally doesn't have to get up early and catch a cramped suttle to work?


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