And the harms run much deeper than this. Perhaps the principal problem is that huge numbers of temporary workers labor under dangerous working conditions. In many cases, temporary workers do not speak English, and are accordingly limited in their ability to both learn of hazards at work sites and raise safety concerns. Additionally, a considerable fraction of those who live on temporary work earn wages that federally classify them as impoverished. Consider the following from the Center for Progressive Reform’s comprehensive study, At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions: “These workers [in this case, temporary farm laborers] face stagnating wages that remain below federal poverty levels, unhealthy work and living conditions that do not meet basic standards, and even cases of modern day slavery” (McCluskey, McGarity, Shapiro, and Shudtz 1).
It is important to note that temporary worker abuse is common in a number of industries, including construction, warehousing, manufacturing, and hospitality (McCluskey et al, 1-2) (Grabel 2014). Construction, unsurprisingly, is among the most dangerous industries to work in, with falls from elevation posing a mortal threat to countless construction workers every day. This is made much worse in light of the fact that temporary workers—including those in construction—are almost never provided with health insurance, and also make so little money that they have almost no hope of affording it: “Wages are paltry. BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics] data indicate workers employed by temporary help services companies and assigned to construction labor jobs earned, on average, 33 percent less per hour than the national wage average for the industry” (McCluskey et. al, 9).
Temporary work is a matter on which labor activists have sharply focused as of late, given that the demand for temporary work by American businesses has vastly increased since the financial crisis of 2007: “Since the 2007-09 recession, temp work has been one of the fastest growing segments of the economy” (Grabel 2014). This makes the aforementioned mistreatment of workers all the more concerning.
WNYCOSH considers the treatment that temporary workers face to be wholly unacceptable. All workers—regardless of temporary or permanent status—should be entitled to a living wage and thorough protection of their health and lives at work. Further, no one should ever be forced to work against their will. It is a testament to the grave seriousness of temporary work that academics are comparing it to slavery, which alone gives us a strong call to action. Keep up with these issues through WNYCOSH’s website and the linked resources provided below, and please show your support of organizations—like WNYCOSH—that fight to end the oppression of working people.
Center for Progressive Reform’s Research on Worker Safety:
Oxfam America’s Research and Publications:
AFL-CIO’s report, Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect:
McCluskey, Martha, Thomas McGarity, Sidney Shapiro, and Matthew Shudtz. Center for Progressive Reform, At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe
Working Conditions (January 2013):
Grabel, Thomas (2014), “U.S. Lags Behind World in Temp Worker Protections”: