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severalog

New job, same as the old job

J. Harry Caufield

I'm finding this report on the growth of temporary work in the US quite interesting. It's at least partially because I've worked temp jobs before, even immediately after finishing the undergraduate stages of my ongoing academic career. The unnerving thing about each job wasn't the uncertainty, the mediocre pay or the lack of decent benefits. Rather, it was the sense that you could serve as a critical element of a larger whole yet retain absolutely no role in your long-term fate with the company. Anyway, here are some bits from the report I found especially damning:
Every year, a tenth of all U.S. workers finds a job at a staffing agency.
That's both temporary and contract workers. The American Staffing Association states that staffing agencies employ more than 2.9 million people in the US every day. That time factor is the critical element here -- these may not be the same 2.9 million employees from one day to the next.
“We’re seeing just more and more industries using business models that attempt to change the employment relationship or obscure the employment relationship,” said Mary Beth Maxwell, a top official in the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. 
Obscuring the employment relationship doesn't initially seem like an ideal goal but it certainly looks like an effective way to turn formerly long-term employment into a more commitment-free model.

“I think our industry has been good for North America, as far as keeping people working,” said Randall Hatcher, president of MAU Workforce Solutions, which supplies temps to BMW. “I get laid off by Employer A and go over here to Employer B, and maybe they have a job for me. People get a lot of different experiences. An employee can work at four to five different companies and then maybe decide this is what I want to do.”
This kind of attitude reminds me of the whole "self-deportation" idea. Nothing with that much uncertainty can be a solid long-term solution. There will always be enough work for everyone but not at the same time. Traditionally, this problem was alleviated by unions, though clearly they come with their own issues. Aren't they worth a try for temp workers?
A 2004 order by the National Labor Relations Board barred temp workers from joining with permanent workers for collective bargaining unless both the temp agency and the host company agree to the arrangement.
Oops, maybe not.
Only 8 percent get health insurance from their employers, compared with 56 percent of permanent workers. What employers don’t provide, workers get from the social safety net, i.e., 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 if workers qualify. 
Health care, or the lack thereof, may be the most worrisome element of the growth of temp work. If most of the temp job growth is in industrial jobs, more people will continue to be at risk of experiencing injuries they will never be able to afford. Many of them may not even work for a single employer more than a year, or when they do, they still won't be able to afford the plans the employers offer (in my experience, the plan wasn't exactly cost-competitive).

This whole problem is genuinely worrisome from numerous perspectives. It's yet another economic maelstrom waiting to happen, with the added stench of Industrial Age exploitation swirling throughout.