Thursday, May 31, 2007

Temporary Labor

Today I was sent home from work, right in the middle of doing something. Why? Not for an infraction, or a mistake, but because - worst of all - I was on the verge of earning overtime.

The job is at a giant parking lot used to store Dodge Durangos and Chrysler Aspens, which are both huge SUVs. They are produced in Newark, Delaware, at an auto plant that is scheduled to shut down by 2009 ( Article on plant closure ) Obviously these vehicles aren't selling well, as between 2000-3000 are sitting at this lot for weeks or even months. Others are being cycled through for repairs - hundreds (from what I can guess) got front-end alignments, despite being brand new.

Most of these repairs were finished by the end of last week, as I began work. I was told the job was 7am to 7pm, at $8 an hour. Such pay is atrocious but I was counting on getting 20-30 hours of overtime a week. The first two days I was there, between 20-25 drivers were used to shuttle these trucks around for various reasons: repair, shipment back to the plant, new arrivals, and outbound shipments. Every one of us was from a temp agency, including the 2-4 supervisors who are burdened with much more work (they drive the vans, do all the paperwork, and scanning, while we just sit between driving the vehicles.) Admittedly, for us the job is easy. It’s not so bad to do twelve hours of it, though it is harrowing to see night shift at 6 pm one day and then see the same people still there at 7 am the next morning.

While the work may not be hard, what work there is fluctuates wildly and the labor goes with it. Two temp agencies provide the workers, at different tempos. Express Personnel is an outfit where you get assigned a job, keep it until told otherwise, and get a check every week. Express provides the base employees, like low-level supervisors and drivers taught to do a little more than just drive. Labor Ready fills in the rest, allotting daily labor in an incredibly aggravating and inefficient way. Every morning those with Labor Ready first have go to their office– usually before six a.m. – regardless of where the jobsite is. Many Labor Ready workers with us bitterly complained about having to go the exact opposite direction to get to the office. Gas, of course, is over $3.00 a gallon; some stated they haven’t filled up in weeks as they can only afford to buy a few gallons at a time.

At the Labor Ready office, workers queue up to get a “ticket” for work at what is available. At the end of the workday, they have to first ask the employer if they can come back the next day, and then must go back to the Labor Ready office for the daily check. Every single day, even if the job is the same, they must first go early to the Labor Ready office!

The first two days I worked between 10-15 people out of 20-25 were from Labor Ready, and several were different between the two days. On Saturday, working ten hours, there were only 5 labor ready people; as with Sunday. By Monday everyone – less than ten total, including supervisors - were from Express. Midday Saturday I also suddenly found out we were only working till 3:30, for an 8-hour shift, as all of the repairs were done. Business had contracted, and labor instantly went with it.

Today I was suddenly informed after lunch that I needed to leave at 4 pm so I wouldn’t get over 40 hours. An hour later, I was in the van with the crew about to hop in some more Durangos and the boss radioed our supervisor to say I needed to immediately be dropped at the front, for the same reason. This is 2 p.m. We had just been told we’d be there till 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., because apparently there was a lot more work. Never mind getting that done though – I was about to earn an extra $4 more per hour! Best of all, I informed my boss that I’d be gone for the weekend (a common time to leave…) and she sternly warned me that “you need to be available, and give us a weeks prior notice to get time off. I’ll let you off this time but not again.” This is just as I am suddenly booted off the worksite, and told not to come in Friday!

The relationship is clear: the temp worker is entirely subservient to the needs of the business. It is no wonder that temp services have grown so rapidly – Labor Ready has over 800 locations in the United States and the U.K. Check cashing and easy loan stores are rapidly increasing as well, as the miserable and unreliable paycheck of millions in the working class is insufficient to cover the ever-increasing cost of living. Parasitic loan stores quickly move into the vacant strip mall stores, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants in these areas and set to work.

Inside of Staff Zone, which is another daily work, daily pay temp agency.

The Center for Studies of Urban Poverty released the first study on day labor, both through agencies and informal. “In the two months leading up to the survey, 44 percent of day laborers were denied food, water and breaks; 32 percent worked more hours than initially agreed to with the employer; 28 percent were insulted or threatened by the employer; and 27 percent were abandoned at the worksite by an employer. … In the year leading up to the study, 20 percent of day laborers were injured on the job, and of those two-thirds missed work as a result. In fact, accidents sidelined injured workers for an average of 33 days and caused them to work in pain for an average of 20 days. More than half did not receive the medical care they needed for the injury, either because the worker could not afford health care or the employer refused to cover the worker under the company's workers' compensation insurance.”

An example of widespread "casual" day labor. Workers gather most mornings here, nearby a Lowes, and contractors pick and choose. Of course all regulation and benefits are non-existant in this case.

These conditions of labor are growing. For corporations, global competition demands a race to the bottom for the living conditions of the worldwide working class. The global economy is not the problem though, rather, the private ownership of production by tiny minority is.

Link to the Study:

Link to the issues of auto production and private ownership: