Regardless of how a business chooses to structure its relationship with its workers, work should be a place where we are treated fairly and with respect and are safe and supported. A good job enables us to join with our co-workers to build a fairer, more just workplace, to provide for ourselves and our families, and to have the stability necessary to plan our lives.
For many temporary help and staffing agency workers, however, these principles are very different from their lived experience. Temporary help and staffing agency workers, otherwise known as “temp workers,”[i] are hired by temp agencies[ii] and assigned to worksites run by companies known as “host employers.” They work for the host employer, often with and alongside the host employer’s permanent workforce. This business model—through which the host employer supervises its temp workers but does not directly employ them—means that host employers control many working conditions without being responsible for them. The model creates a second-tier workforce of temp workers who do the same work as permanent workers but for less pay, nearly non-existent benefits, and no job security. And it divides permanent and temp workers from each other, which weakens their ability to build collective power in their workplace.
This brief explores how certain structural drivers of temping out—laws and government programs that give special treatment to temp agencies—subsidize and perpetuate the creation of low-wage, insecure jobs and the degradation of workplace conditions generally. The low labor costs resulting from degraded workplace standards, in turn, entice host employers to temp out more and more of their work, while the structural absence of legal responsibility allows them to plead ignorance to unfair, illegal, or dangerous workplace standards for their temporary workers. The brief recommends policy solutions that would eliminate these subsidies and promote stable living-wage jobs.
In our democracy, laws should safeguard the people, not powerful corporate interests. It’s time we pass laws that protect the interests of working people and make good jobs for temp workers a reality. By working in concert, on and off the job, we can all thrive in a just and inclusive economy centered on people and the common good.
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[i] For purposes of this paper, temp workers are workers hired and employed by temporary help agencies or staffing agencies—otherwise known as temp agencies—to work for client businesses for a limited period of time. The temp workers are employed by their temp agency even though the client business usually directs and supervises their day-to-day work.
[ii] For purposes of this paper, a temp agency is an establishment primarily engaged in supplying workers to client businesses—otherwise known as host employers—for limited periods of time. These workers are considered the employees of the temp agency, even though direct supervision of the workers is usually provided by the client business.