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The Temp Industry

The Temporary Staffing Industry and Poverty

Most of our members work to fabricate or ship name-brand products  such as Kraft Foods, Philips Norelco, Sony, and Weber Grill. Others work at production, printing and warehouse operations which feed into major retailers such as Walmart and Target. While our members produce, assemble, pack and ship many well-known products, none of them are paid directly by any of these brand-name companies. Instead, they are hired and placed into these companies through temporary staffing agencies where they labor for minimum wages during short periods of time without any benefits such as sick days, holidays, vacations, or health insurance.  Our members' average annual salary is about $11,000 per year. Some are “permatemps”, while most rarely know where they will be working from month to month, nor if they will have money to pay their rent. Aside from the hours they work, our members spend an average of 15 hours per week waiting in staffing agency dispatch rooms to be sent out to work. Most of our members are Latino immigrants. A growing number are African-Americans.

One reason why so many workers live in poverty is due the disorganization of the labor force by the growing temporary staffing industry (hereafter referred to as TSI). TSI's rapid expansion has been fueled by its ability to give large and small companies the tools avoid responsibility and regulation. Companies use TSI to destroy the collective power of their workers by dividing them along racial, gender and immigration-status lines, making income and seniority rights unstable, and psychologically beating workers into tolerating inhuman abuse in exchange for work. Companies benefit from from the TSI because they do not have to negotiate working conditions or compensation with their workforces. The TSI shields companies from liabilities stemming from worker accidents, hiring of undocumented workers, and paying unemployment compensation for layoffs. The TSI also enables companies to lock out union members during negotiations to gain concessions on wages and working conditions. Unlike the NBA lock-out where the League was forced to stop operations and lose money, most companies in the bluecollar sector can lock out union members and bring in temps to keep operations going and force union workers into accepting the companies' terms. Once companies get a taste of short-term labor cost savings of temp labor, they can become addicted and “temp-out” and eliminate their unionized workforce  to gain competitive advantages on labor costs which feeds a race to the bottom.

CWC's History with the Temporary Staffing Industry

Since our inception, CWC has undergone a process of learning how to build power with TSI workers. In 2003, we began by creating a committee of Latino immigrant temp worker leaders who led a number of direct actions against agencies in Chicago to denounce wage violations, discrimination, unfair charges for rides to work-sites and scores of other injustices. We forced abusive agencies such as Professional Labor Source, Scott Labor, Trojan Labor, and Custom Staffing Partners to either close down or move out off Illinois. Action brought media attention and support. Then from 2004 to 2010, we allied with African-American and Latino elected officials and union leaders to pass a host of laws through our labor-friendly State Assembly to regulate the TSI, criminalize wage-theft, and penalize abuses of E-verify.  Temp workers in Illinois now enjoy a modern arsenal of legal protections specific to the TSI and other precarious jobs never contemplated in depression-era laws such as the National Labor Relations Act or Fair Labor Standards Act. Temp agencies are prohibited from charging for rides or retaliating against workers who assert rights. They must provide employment notices at the outset of each worker's work assignment detailing wages, working conditions and 3rd-party client company information. Client companies are explicitly “joint employers”, liable for violations committed by temp agencies. Workers can demand the bill and pay records which agencies use to charge client companies. Most critically, workers can enforce all these rights in court (instead of through government agencies). In 2002, we sent an organizer to law school who graduated in 2004 to set up the legal wing of the CWC, a separate non-profit called Working Hands Legal Clinic. CWC workers have used the clinic to enforce rights against 24 staffing agencies, leveraging about $15 million in settlements for violations and damages as well as attorneys fees for Working Hands to hire more attorneys. The courts also have awarded CWC about $500,000 from these settlements.