Temporary Employment, Permanent Loss of Soul

I’ve finally figured out what depresses, frustrates and angers me so much about temp agencies. I’d thought it was merely that they continue to get a significant portion of my paycheck for finding one job for me well over a year ago, but I was wrong–it’s that they continue to get a significant portion of my paycheck to make sure that nobody has to pay me insurance.

Contrary to the stories they tell, temp agencies don’t exist to help you find jobs. Those jobs already exist, and it’d be much easier for the companies involved to simply place ads in newspapers or on the internet for the positions, with the condition that you’d only be hired for a specified period of time. The reason they don’t do this is because they don’t want to actually hire you–if they did, they’d have to pay you what everyone else in the office makes for doing the same job, and they’d probably have to give you insurance.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily apply to positions where a temporary fill-in is needed for someone who is unexpectedly sick. But the truth is, most of the replacements are needed for people who are on extended leave (most companies don’t want to have to pay both a sick day for the regular employee and a day worth of pay for the temp when the regular employee can just catch up the next day), or are to fill positions that are constantly needed by the company. For instance, here at the health department, there are several temps who, without having been brought on to temporarily replace someone, have been working for months doing the same jobs that actual state employees have been doing. These are positions that should be filled by actual employees.

The story I’ve been given as to why they can’t hire these people (specifically me, since they claim they’ve been wanting to for a while) is that there’s a limit on how many people they can hire, based on how many employees are registered as “full-time”. The problem is that there are apparently many “full-time” employees who have only been working part-time, leaving no open spaces for directly hiring additional employees. I like to refer to these people as “please die in your sleep, you inconsiderate fuckass, so I can take over your job and be paid a decent wage”.

Of course, I’m a bit skeptical of this excuse, but that’s mostly because I’m the kind of person who believes things should–at least most of the time–make sense. Then again, none of the seemingly arbitrary protocols of work (particularly in office-type situations) that are adhered to like the tenets of some fanatical religious cult have ever made much sense to me.

And this explanation still dodges other issues: even if they couldn’t hire permanent employees, there shouldn’t be a reason they can’t put out ads for the positions they need filled with specified termination dates.

Which, again, returns to the real explanation: They don’t want to pay insurance or regular wages, even though they want the same work accomplished. This is so audacious that it even defies Capitalism: Adam Smith even said that workers should be interchangeable, like cogs in a machine. And as awful and dehumanizing a comparison as that is, it still implies that the cogs all need the same amount of grease and maintenance.

Enter the temp agency, the entity responsible for bringing this desire of businesses to fruition. Under the guise of a “job placement service”, they allow companies to “hire” temporary employees, and because they’re not actually employees of the business, there’s no requirement for them to pay insurance. And for whatever reason, it’s just accepted as normal that these temporary employees would be paid less than the people they’re replacing for doing the same work. And not only are they paid less, but the temp agency then takes a portion of the employees’ pay themselves, apparently simply because they had the courage to venture the mighty task of giving their phone number to local employers.

And then they wonder why temp workers reportedly steal office supplies. Why the fuck would someone need six staplers? Why would they need forty-seven red pens? I can imagine what they probably do with these things once they get them: I picture garbage cans filled with trashed and abused three-ring binders, and hammer-dented staplers, and aimlessly-fired staples. They’re stolen in frustration, not so much for utility but as a symbol of control in a helpless environment.

What do I hope to accomplish by writing this? Honestly, I would hope to destroy the work ethic of temp workers and potential temp workers everywhere. I would hope that by doing so, awful, degrading and unfair business practices like this would be shown to be detrimental to business. That is, without the incentive, there really ought to be no drive. And simply “to keep your job” should by no means be considered an adequate motivating factor for tolerating sub-level wages and lack of insurance. If I’m not getting paid the same amount as the person I’m replacing, why should I have to do as much work?

Then again, my hopes are, I feel, far overreaching my sense of reality. Our dependence on these jobs merely to get by keeps us almost powerless. After all, as desperate as some of us may be, if we get fired for lack of work ethic, there will always be one more desperate available to fill the position.

And this is a clear indication of how broken our priorities and our system of economy have become.

9 thoughts on “Temporary Employment, Permanent Loss of Soul”

  1. I feel your pain. My last temp gig was about 3 years ago. I worked for 2 commercial real estate moguls. Their office manager desperately needed help, and I was their grudging attempt to “help” her. One guy was really cool, actually tried to get me on full-time in my (IT) field; the other one, I’d just pour gasoline on if he were on fire. One of the biggest blowhard power-tripping assholes you’ll ever see.

    It’s that moment in my life I came nearest to doing the Fight Club-lawsuit-blackmail thing (only I know I couldn’t have resisted beating his greedy ass).

  2. I would subtitle this entry: Why Janet Has Been Pointing Out Help Wanted Signs to You.

    That’s what I was thinking too.

    Without trying to sound like an ass, how many jobs have you applied for in the past year Jabberwock? You can gripe and bitch and moan about your situation, but have you tried to improve it?

    And, the type of job does offer other benefits. How many weeks of vacation time have you taken (including holidays, as most get just one day off for those)? Now figure that as an employee of a year or two, most places would give you one week (maybe two at a good place) of vacation.

    You complain that the temp agency gets a cut of your pay, do you think that they should get nothing? Hard to build a company without any type of revenue stream. There is also quite a bit of work done behind the scenes. My mom used to work for a temp agency, in the payroll department. Lots of workers in the temp agency, working FOR the temp agency, like her, just to make sure things run smoothly.

    Why should they pay temp workers less? Usually a temp worker coming in isn’t going to know as much or be as efficient as someone who has worked there for 10 years. How would you feel if you worked somewhere for 10 years, getting raises and stuff based on performace, and some temp came in and made the same thing as you? Also, if temps are stealing staplers and shit, that probably just comes right out of their paycheck (factored in before they’re hired). Way to shoot yourself in the foot.

    But, in the end, the real reason places are able to treat temp workers in this type of way? They continue to work for the temp agency. If someone is working for $14,000 why pay them $28,000 for the same amount of work? And unless you applied for a few hundred jobs in 2005, you don’t really get to complain. If you were valuable to the place you’re working for, you could get a backup job (mcdonalds (zomfg)) and then threaten to quit unless they hired you full time. You’d be amazed at how fast red tape can be cut then.

    Really though, it sounds like your problems are more from the red tape associated with the health department than the temp agency. It’s not the temp agency’s fault that the health department uses temp workers in permanent positions.

  3. Well, right. The problem isn’t just with the temp agency. The main source of the problem is that the companies want the same work done, but they don’t want to pay as much for it, and they really don’t want to pay insurance. The temp agency really just capitalizes on this desire of business. It’s part of why temp agencies have grown so much in the last decade or two. They’re an enabler of such behavior–a catalyst that allows poor business practices and attitudes toward employees to actually be successful.

    It’s just sinister, when you think about the cause/effect relationship: Companies don’t want to pay me insurance or reasonable wages. Temp agencies provide workers to companies that don’t want to pay insurance or reasonable wages. Temp agencies take a fairly sizely cut of each paycheck. Thus, temp agencies are taking a fairly sizely cut of each paycheck you receive to ensure that companies don’t have to pay you insurance.

    Sure, people need to work for temp agencies. Everything needs a staff. That’s not to say that the ethics behind those things aren’t fucked up. For instance, there are people who work for the tobacco industry who are just regular people who need employment, and have nothing to do with the part of the company that tries to market to children and makes sure people stay addicted to their product. The company’s ethics and philosophy are for shit, but hey, people have to work somewhere.

    If you go to one of those job placement agencies and they find you a real job, they’re not going to make a portion of your paycheck for the rest of the time you work at that place. That’s just silly. It’s like being referred to a butcher from your local grocery store, and then every time you buy something from that butcher, he cuts a slice off before he gives it to you and sends it to the grocery store. A one-time referral shouldn’t result in continued profits.

    There are reasons I can take vacations and things, when regular employees might not be afforded such privileges. I don’t get paid vacations, for instance, and most of the work I do isn’t time-sensitive, so I can catch up when I get back. I also get paid for shit–definitely not enough to really care. Considering the temp agency is making money off of the work that I’m doing after they referred me to a job once, over a year ago, I don’t think they’re going to hold too short a leash on things I can and can’t do.

    The reason I didn’t apply for any jobs is because I was under the impression that the state would actually hire me as a regular employee when the woman I was replacing returned. It wasn’t until September that I discovered that wasn’t actually going to be the case. After that, I’ve gone through a period of ambivalence: we’ll be leaving here in May or June anyway, I figured, so there’s no point in spending so much time and effort looking for a job that would pay slightly more that I’d end up leaving in short order (probably before insurance benefits were enabled–a lot of places have conditions where you have to work for at least six months before being eligible). And it’s only recently that I’ve really thought about the nature of temp agencies, and realized how in conflict their philosophy is with my own.

  4. Sure, people need to work for temp agencies. Everything needs a staff. That’s not to say that the ethics behind those things aren’t fucked up. For instance, there are people who work for the tobacco industry who are just regular people who need employment, and have nothing to do with the part of the company that tries to market to children and makes sure people stay addicted to their product. The company’s ethics and philosophy are for shit, but hey, people have to work somewhere.

    I think you missed the point. You made it sound like they took a cut of your paycheck for shit and giggles. The cut from your paycheck goes to pay all the employees behind the scenes.

    If you go to one of those job placement agencies and they find you a real job, they’re not going to make a portion of your paycheck for the rest of the time you work at that place. That’s just silly. It’s like being referred to a butcher from your local grocery store, and then every time you buy something from that butcher, he cuts a slice off before he gives it to you and sends it to the grocery store. A one-time referral shouldn’t result in continued profits.

    But, you didn’t go to a job placement agency, you went to a temp agency. If you wanted a one time referral, you should have gotten one. The temp agency makes sense, as there are a lot of jobs that need temp workers, for short periods of time, so they would need to keep ‘referring’ you to these over and over. It’s not the temp agency’s fault that the health department misuses temp workers.

    After that, I’ve gone through a period of ambivalence: we’ll be leaving here in May or June anyway, I figured, so there’s no point in spending so much time and effort looking for a job that would pay slightly more that I’d end up leaving in short order (probably before insurance benefits were enabled–a lot of places have conditions where you have to work for at least six months before being eligible).

    Is the temp agency taking a sizable chunk or not? If it’s just ‘slightly more’ why are you complaining? Filling out a couple forms for 8 months of work doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. *shrugs*

    And it’s only recently that I’ve really thought about the nature of temp agencies, and realized how in conflict their philosophy is with my own.

    You mean, how in conflict this philosophy of places like the HEALTH DEPARTMENT are in conflict with your own. From what I’ve read, they’re they only bad guy here.

  5. You’re not seeing the big globs of retarded, here: First, there’s the idea that someone is taking my money in order to be able to pay me, which isn’t too silly, I suppose, when you consider that it’s something that someone has to do. Of course, what’s stupid about it is that the business pays them, and then they take a cut, and then they pay the employee.

    So essentially, the business is actually paying the temp agency to take a cut of the employee’s paycheck–the agency has to hire an entire payroll and accounting department to take money out of my paycheck to pay the people who wouldn’t need to be hired if they didn’t have to take money out of my paycheck. It’s like that episode of Sealab 2021 where Murphy takes out a $100,000 loan to film a commercial to get tourists to come down to Sealab–which isn’t a tourist attraction but a research facility–so that he can pay off the $100,000 loan he spent on the commercial.

    You missed where I indicated the difference between very short-term temp employment and longer-term temp employment, by the way. I’ll concede that for the people who only do a series of short jobs, one after the other, the temp agency does do a fair amount of work for each referral. But for longer-term (say, a couple months or more), it’s ridiculous to call that “temporary” employment. And it’s even MORE ridiculous for the temp agency to continue to take a cut of your pay, long, long, long after they found you the job.

    I know they’re not a job placement service, but, see, that’s part of what’s so irritating about it: they wear the mask of a particular breed of job placement service. The reason they’re in business isn’t to find people jobs–the reason they’re in business is to make sure that employees don’t get health insurance or adequate pay. Otherwise, there’d be no money in it for them.

    Which leads me to:

    You’re right, they’re not the bad guy. But by allowing what should be considered very awful, very negative employment practices to flourish instead of being, as they ought to be, detrimental to business, they’re much closer to horrible than good. And by inserting themselves as the middle man and capitalizing on all of it, they’re just being downright sleazy.

    Without incentive, there should be no motivation–it’s a part of fairer economic philosophy (which this country so proudly claims to have–so much so that we try to force other countries to be just like us, sometimes by force) that grants the weaker entity (the worker) a tiny bit of power against the business juggernauts. Businesses should have to feel the negative consequences of not paying their employees enough to give a shit about work ethic, but temp agencies help to prevent that from happening, and capitalize from doing so. They feed on a desperate work force, and are further nurtured by a business system and philosophy that has taken hold in this country over the last couple decades that doesn’t want to treat employees fairly.

    What I have yet to figure out is what’s worse: not wanting to give your employees insurance and a reasonable wage, or capitalizing off of employees who the businesses want you to hire for them to make sure they don’t have to pay them insurance and a reasonable wage.

  6. But for longer-term (say, a couple months or more), it’s ridiculous to call that “temporary� employment. And it’s even MORE ridiculous for the temp agency to continue to take a cut of your pay, long, long, long after they found you the job.

    So, what would you want them to do? The health department doesn’t want to hire you. I guess they could fire you, and then have someone else work at the health department. Don’t see how that helps you though. Are you saying they should just stop taking a cut, yet still handle your payroll? And it’s kind of silly to ask a business to give up money because you don’t like it. Kroger might offer a buy 3 get one free deal. If someone buys 3 and refuses the free one, should they deny them the order, or just let them buy what they want?

  7. Well, they could fire me and then hire me directly. Or stop using temp workers and start hiring real employees so they’re not avoiding paying health insurance and decent wages. And I think temp agencies are unnecessary middle men who capitalize on something very wrong with business, that should itself be remedied.

    It’s not just asking a business to give up money “because [I] don’t like it”. It’s a multi-pronged exploitation of workers, and is completely unfair. Just because they can make money from it, that doesn’t mean it’s right. And it doesn’t mean that asking them to stop is wrong.

    I’m failing to understand the Kroger simile. How is refusing a “buy three get one free” deal the same as companies not wanting to pay health insurance or decent wages to their employees and then the temp agencies coming in and allowing the companies to accomplish that?

  8. Wattly,

    Temporary work is not only driven by the businesses that hire temps, but by the “staffing” industry itself. Those reps your Mom worked for are profiteering parasites. They convince many businesses to hire temps so their sleezy (yes, they are ALL sleezy) temp agency exists, profits, and thrives. So – the employee makes $14,000 a year, and the agency makes $14,000 a year so those poor ol’ corporations don’t have to pay health benefits, vacation time, etc. (Ever hear of the widening income gap BTW?) Some of these agencies are vertically intergrated with the employers, which only proves that one of the main reasons of these agencies’ existence is to circumvent the employers from paying workers benefits.

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