Tiffany Lashai Curtis
While there's no shortage of advice on how women can advance in their careers, from negotiating a raise to taking enough vacation time, much of this advice is tailored to long-term, permanent employment. In the conversation about career advancement and rights, however, we need to create space to adocate for another group: temporary employees.
According to an NBC News report, the temp worker industry grew to 3 million people as of July 2017, and there is a rise in staffing agenies placing temp workers across all industries. As NBC put it, "No longer are (temp workers) merely office workers answering phones — they're packing boxes and operating machinery in warehouses, and employed as security guards, janitors and nursing assistants." And while more and more individuals are turning to alternative forms of work, like freelancing and temping, there are far and few legal or ethical measures in place to ensure that their pay and treatment on the job is equal and equitable. Temp workers are often stuck with underemployment and underappreciation in the workforce; they're unsung heroes.
I recently made the switch to part-time freelance writing after my temporary administrative job abruptly ended. I took a necessary sick day from work and received an email stating that my services were no longer needed — and have since received no word on a new assignment from the staffing agency that has employed me since October 2017.
My story pales in comparison, though, to the tales of temp workers who are injured while doing dangerous factory work, many of whom are often immigrants. There is subtle and blatant abuse of temp workers across the board. The abuse comes in the form of unreptuable staffing agencies charging job seekers exorbitant fees and no job placement to show for it, low wages in comparison to permanent employees in the same positions, and general disregard for the work and needs of temp workers, like medical leave and sick time.
All this while staffing agencies profit from placing workers in sometimes less-than-desirable work environments. The way they do this is by charging businesses more money than the worker is being paid hourly.
I once stumbled upon an invoive to a construction firm, where I worked for a week as a receptionist. I realized that while I was being paid $11 an hour, my staffing agency received $20 for every hour of my service. Throughout every temp gig I've worked, there were microaggressions ranging from the constant forgetting of my name (in favor of simply referring to me as "the temp"), a questioning of my qualifications, and being overloaded with the work that no one else in the offices wanted to do.
The temp industry isn't always awful. There are times when temp positions can turn into permanent job offers and workplaces where a temp worker is regarded no differently than a permanent employee, but sadly this too often isn't the case.
While some states are doing more to improve treatment within the industry — like California, which in 2014 enacted a law that makes companies liable if temp employees are underpaid by their staffing agencies — it will take more states to step up and advocate for temp workers for change to be made.
There are many people who end up temping for years because the job industry can be barren at times, and even if a person has to take on a one-time temp gig, they deserve the same level of respect and rights as long-term, permanent employees.
Tiffany Curtis is a Philly-based freelance writer, podcaster, and sex positivist whose work focuses on empowerment for women of color, race and culture, and sex positivity. She has written for sites like Blavity, Refinery29, and Hello Giggles.
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