Temp Workers Demand Good Jobs

Survey reveals poverty pay, permatemping, deceptive recruitment practices, and other job quality issues





Antonia Bannister fears for her younger brother’s safety every day he works as a “temp” at a Jacksonville, Florida, warehouse picking and packaging high-priced clothing and accessories for the global multi-billion-dollar luxury fashion brand Coach.

Coach, like many major corporations operating warehouses and factories in Jacksonville, contracts with a company called Remedy Intelligent Staffing to supply a sizable portion of the labor at its distribution hub in the city.[1]

Antonia’s younger brother is a Remedy “temp” just like two of his older siblings had been.

Back in 2012, Remedy placed their older brother, Lawrence “Day” Davis, at a Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville. It was his first job ever, and 90 minutes into his first day, he was killed in a machine accident. He was just 21 years old—the same age Antonia’s younger brother is now.[2]

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration identified Day’s death as part of a pattern of temp workers dying on their first days on the job. His death was part of what prompted the agency to launch its Temp Worker Initiative to improve safety for temp workers and lay out the joint responsibility of both “host employers” like Bacardi and staffing agencies like Remedy in ensuring it.[3]

The initiative was an important step. And more needs to be done. Antonia knows first-hand. After Day’s death, Antonia became the eldest sibling, felt a new sense of responsibility to her family, and vowed that she would never take a job that put her safety at risk. But “times get hard, and a lot of time it’s only the warehouses and factories, only hiring through temp agencies, that have work readily available when you need it most.”  Desperate for work, she had to go to the same staffing agency that employed Day. “It never felt right, but it was my only option.”[4]

Times get hard, and a lot of time it’s only the warehouses and factories, only hiring through temp agencies, that have work readily available when you need it most.

Antonia worked in warehouses for Remedy for a total of 5 years, 4 of which were at Coach’s old warehouse location in Jacksonville. While there, she once injured her ankle when she was not provided with the proper equipment to safely do her job, and once fainted because of extreme heat in the warehouse. After neither incident did Coach nor Remedy ask Antonia whether she needed to see a doctor. Each time, she was sent to an onsite medical room, given ice or water, then expected to return to work. She was forced to seek out and pay for medical treatment on her own for her ankle injury, and doubts that the injury was even logged by her employers.

Antonia explains that temp workers in Jacksonville’s industrial parks are often placed in more dangerous jobs than permanent workers at their worksites, safety training is lacking, and host employers fail to show concern, treating temps as disposable. “As a temp, they don’t care about your safety, or us as people,” she says. “Everybody is expendable because the staffing agency can always get another person to work that position.”[5]

As a “permatemp” at Coach for four long years, she worked with stagnant wages, no benefits, no paid time off, no sick time, “no freedom” to balance her life with her work. She earned less in wages and benefits than permanent workers, and unlike them, her seniority provided her no say in selecting a floor assignment.[6]

When she was finally offered a permanent position for a meager 25-cent raise, she quit. After her 4 long years, she says the offer “made me feel like I had no value.”[7]

Antonia found a job in daycare, and she does hair for extra money—she hopes to open her own salon one day.

Although Antonia is no longer a temp worker, her years of experience as one, the trauma of losing Day to a temp job, and her younger brother’s current temp employment, have made her a fierce advocate for temp worker rights. She joined the National Temp Worker Council of a national temp worker advocacy group called Temp Worker Justice (TWJ) in 2020. Through her work with TWJ, she’s speaking out and raising awareness about the dangers and insecurity of temp work, the inequity it creates in workplaces, and she’s fighting to make work better and safer for temp workers like her younger brother.

Antonia’s family’s experience working for companies that employ workers through staffing agencies—the grave health and safety issues they have had to deal with, the permatemping, the wage and benefit penalties relative to permanent and directly hired workers—is indicative of the experience of millions of temp workers in the United States. Remedy Intelligent Staffing is part of a large, globalized temporary help and staffing industry that supplies labor to companies that have decided to temp out their workforces in nearly every U.S. industry.[8] And Coach is just one of many corporations that contract work throughout their supply chains to staffing agencies rather than hiring workers directly.[9]  See the diagram below for more information on “temp” work players and relationships.

In December 2021, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, employment via U.S. temporary help and staffing agencies was 2.8 million.[10] According to temp industry estimates, between 13 and 16 million U.S. workers find work via staffing agencies each year.[11]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in e-commerce has spurred growth in industries such as warehousing, where companies use temporary help and staffing agencies at a relatively high rate.[12] In March 2020, days after the pandemic was declared, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, whose members including Walmart and Kroger, partnered with the staffing industry’s largest trade group, the American Staffing Association, to launch a staffing agency database where retailers could find labor to supply their warehousing, retail store, and other operations.[13]

After a drop during the first month of the pandemic, growth in the volume of temp work has outstripped that of all private sector work by a factor of 2.5.[14] U.S. staffing industry revenue was projected to grow 16 percent to a record $157.4 billion in 2021.[15]

The prevalence and projected growth of companies employing workers via staffing agencies is a concern. Evidence shows that, under current law and employer practice, a host employer contracting out work to a staffing agency reduces job quality for workers, and breeds inequality and racial segregation within workplaces and in the broader labor market.[16]

To better understand the job quality issues that temp workers face, Temp Worker Justice (TWJ) partnered with several worker and advocacy groups—the Chicago Workers Collaborative, Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, New Labor (New Jersey), Warehouse Workers for Justice (Illinois), the North Carolina Justice Center, and the National Employment Law Project—on a national survey project between 2019 and 2021. In total, 1,337 workers from 47 U.S. states participated in the TWJ Survey Series. Temp workers employed by staffing agencies including Aerotek, Adecco, Manpower Group, Kelly Services, Robert Half, and Randstad, and working for host employers including Amazon, Walmart, Google, and Tyson Foods, answered questions about issues like pay, benefits, health and safety, discrimination, and employer retaliation. See the Appendix for more on the TWJ Survey Series methodology and sample.

Key findings from the TWJ Survey Series:

  • Wage theft: Nearly 1 in 4 (24% of) temp workers reported that, while working as a temp, their employers have stolen wages from them in at least one of three ways—paid less than the minimum wage, failed to pay the overtime rate, or failed to pay for all hours worked.
  • “Permatemping”: More than 1 in 3 (35% of) temp workers reported that their current temp assignment had lasted over 1 year, and 18 percent reported that their current temp assignment had lasted over 2 years.
  • Workplace injury: More than 1 in 6 (17% of) temp workers reported experiencing a work-related injury or illness while employed through a staffing agency. Of those workers who reported experiencing a work-related injury or illness, 41 percent said that they covered healthcare costs themselves, out of pocket or through their own health insurance.
  • Employer retaliation: Nearly 3 in 4 (71% of) temp workers said that they experienced some form of retaliation for raising workplace issues with a supervisor or management.
  • Interest in joining a worker organization: Fully 4 in 5 (80% of) temp workers reported interest in joining a worker organization like a union that works to improve conditions for temp workers.

Temp workers are organizing in their workplaces and advancing public policy campaigns to address the issues listed above, as well as others.

This report provides an overview of key temp worker job quality issues, drawing on government data and the TWJ Survey Series.  The stories of temp worker leaders and groups leading efforts to improve conditions for temp and all workers are featured throughout the report. The final section of the report provides a roadmap for worker groups, advocates, and policymakers looking to raise standards for temp workers and all workers in the U.S.


[1] Remedy Intelligent Staffing “Weekend Warehouse Associate job”, lensa.com, accessed December 31, 2021,  https://lensa.com/weekend-warehouse-associate-jobs/jacksonville-fl/hjp/ed428200547b212048e3e273bb4c55f2a8902317398ac481da72a2e185341890; Remedy Intelligent Staffing job listing, ZipRecruiter.com, accessed December 31, 2021, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/c/Remedy-Staffing/Jobs/-in-Jacksonville,FL; Remedy Intelligent Staffing corporate website, “Remedy Staffing of North Florida,”  accessed December 31, 2021, https://www.remedystaffing.com/franchises/rose-north-florida/; “Temporary Staffing Agencies 2021, Jacksonville Business Journal, April 8, 2021, https://www.bizjournals.com/jacksonville/subscriber-only/2021/04/08/temporary-staffing-agencies-2021.html.

[2] Cynthia Gordy Giwa, “New Film ‘A Day’s Work,’ Highlights Dangers of the Temp Industry,” ProPublica, November 16, 2015, https://www.propublica.org/podcast/new-film-a-days-work-highlights-dangers-of-the-temp-industry.

[3] U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Protecting the Safety and Health of Temporary Workers,” transcript of webinar, July 18, 2013, https://www.osha.gov/news/speeches/07182013.

[4] Author’s telephone interview with Antonia Bannister, November 8, 2021.

[5] Supra note 4.

[6] Supra note 4.

[7] Supra note 4.

[8] In July 2021, private equity and investment management firm Apollo Global Management acquired EmployBridge, the largest industrial staffing firm in the U.S. and the parent of Remedy Intelligent Staffing. “Apollo Funds Complete Acquisition of EmployBridge,” GlobeNewswire, July 19, 2021, https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/07/19/2265134/0/en/Apollo-Funds-Complete-Acquisition-of-EmployBridge.html; Remedy Intelligent Staffing corporate website, “About Us,” accessed December 31, 2021, https://www.remedystaffing.com/about-us/.

[9] Laura Padin and Maya Pinto, “Lasting Solutions for America’s Temporary Workers,” National Employment Law Project, August 26, 2019, https://www.nelp.org/publication/lasting-solutions-americas-temporary-workers/.

[10] NELP analysis of Current Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[11] American Staffing Association corporate website, “Staffing Industry Statistics,” accessed December 31, 2021, https://americanstaffing.net/research/fact-sheets-analysis-staffing-industry-trends/staffing-industry-statistics/.

[12] Sarah Chaney Cambon, “Blue-Collar Jobs Boom as Covid-19 Boosts Housing, E-Commerce Demand,” The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/blue-collar-jobs-boom-as-covid-19-boosts-housing-e-commerce-demand-11613903402.

[13] American Staffing Association corporate website, “ASA and RILA Partner to Address Critical Need for U.S. Retail Workers During Covid-19 Pandemic,” March25, 2020, https://americanstaffing.net/posts/2020/03/25/retail-workers-during-covid-19-pandemic/.

[14] As measured by seasonally adjusted aggregate weekly work hours of staffing agency workers (NAICS 56132) compared to all private sector workers. NELP analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics, April 2020 and November 2021.

[15] “US Staffing Revenue to Grow 16% This Year to Record High: SIA Forecast,” Staffing industry Analysts, September 8, 2021, https://www2.staffingindustry.com/Editorial/Daily-News/US-staffing-revenue-to-grow-16-this-year-to-record-high-SIA-forecast-58974.

[16] Supra note 9.

[17] NELP analysis of 2019 Integrated Public Use Microdata Series American Community Survey data.

[18] Supra note 17.

[19] This is only one measure of economic insecurity and poverty among temp workers and their families. Some temp workers are unable to access public assistance programs because of immigration status or other eligibility barriers.

[20] Robert J. Grossman, “The Art of Choosing a Staffing Agency,” SHRM.org, March 1, 2012, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0312grossmana.aspx.

[21] July 28, 2020, focus group on work-related issues like pay and workplace safety conducted by New Labor (NJ), with 12 New Jersey temp workers in warehousing and manufacturing jobs.

[22] Supra note 9.

[23] Michael Grabell and Lena Groeger, “Temp Worker Regulations around the World,” ProPublica, February 24, 2014, https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/temps-around-the-world; International Labor Organization, “Regulation of fixed-term contracts,” accessed January 27, 2022, https://eplex.ilo.org/fixed-term-contracts-ftcs/.

[24] U.S. Department of Labor, “Low Wage, High Violation Industries,” Fiscal Year 2001 to 2021, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/data/charts/low-wage-high-violation-industries.

[25] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Number of involuntary part-time workers in February 2021 down from record highs ,” March 10, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/number-of-involuntary-part-time-workers-in-february-2021-down-from-record-highs.htm.

[26] NELP analysis of 2019 Integrated Public Use Microdata Series American Community Survey microdata. Universe includes employed traditional employees 18 and over (excludes self-employed and unpaid family workers), warehousing and production occupations include U.S. Census occupation codes 7700-8990 (Production occupations), 9620 (Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand), 9640(Packers and packagers, hand), and 9645 (Stockers and order fillers).

[27] National Partnership for Women and Families, “Paid Sick Days Improve Public Health,” September 2021, https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/paid-sick-days/paid-sick-days-improve-our-public-health.pdf.

[28] Stefan Pichler, Katherine Wen, and Nicolas R. Ziebarth, “COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Has Helped Flatten The Curve In The United States,” Health Affairs, Vol. 39, Nov. 12, October 15, 2020, https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00863.

[29] U.S. Department of Labor, “National Compensation Survey:

Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2021,” September 2021,  https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2021/employee-benefits-in-the-united-states-march-2021.pdf.

[30] NELP analysis of 2018 County Business Patterns data, U.S. Census Bureau, for NAICS code 56132.

[31] Adewale Maye, “No-Vacation Nation, Revised,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 22, 2019, https://cepr.net/report/no-vacation-nation-revised/.

[32] Supra note 29.

[33] Johnny Wood, “People in these countries get the most paid vacation days,” World Economic Forum, August 22, 2018, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/08/average-paid-vacation-time-days-by-country/.

[34] Supra note 29.

[35] “Not applicable” was an answer choice for this question about the frequency with which temp workers received safety training prior to starting a new temp job, and 14 percent of temp workers reported that safety training was “not applicable” to their job.

[36] Laura Padin, “Eliminating Structural Drivers of Temping Out: Reforming Laws and Programs to Cultivate Stable and Secure Jobs,” National Employment Law Project, March 23, 2020, https://www.nelp.org/publication/eliminating-structural-drivers-temping-reforming-laws-programs-cultivate-stable-secure-jobs/.

[37] Author’s telephone interview with Reynalda Cruz, November 2, 2021.

[38] Supra note 17.

[39] Supra note 17. Warehousing and production occupations include U.S. Census occupation codes 7700-8990 (Production occupations), 9620 (Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand), 9640(Packers and packagers, hand), and 9645 (Stockers and order fillers).

[40] Supra note 17.

[41] Michael Grabell, The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed,” ProPublica, June 27, 2013, https://www.propublica.org/article/the-expendables-how-the-temps-who-power-corporate-giants-are-getting-crushe.

[42] Brittany Scott, “Opening the Door: Ending Racial Discrimination in Industrial Temp Hiring Through Innovative Enforcement,” March 2021, https://dignityandrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Opening-the-Door-Report.pdf.

[43] Han Lu and Laura Padin, Testimony in support of New York City Council Bill 2318-2021, Licensing of Labor Brokers, submitted to the New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs and Licensing, September 15, 2021, https://s27147.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/NELP-Testimony-Support-for-Bill-2318-2021-Licensing-of-Labor-brokers.pdf.

[44] Michael Sainato, “Inside New York’s ‘body shops’ that exploit ex-prisoners to drive down wages,” The Guardian, September 3, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/sep/03/

[45] Natalie Moore, “Residents And Workers Raise Concerns About A Proposed Joliet Industrial Park,” WBEZ Chicago, March 16, 2020, https://www.wbez.org/stories/a-proposed-joliet-industrial-park-promises-jobs-but-also-raises-concerns-for-workers-and-residents/72967dde-7f60-4e26-813a-f1e3ab8f2d1e.

[46] Temp Worker Justice organizational website, “Legislation,” accessed December 31, 2021, https://www.tempworkerjustice.org/legislation.

[47] Author’s telephone interview with Janell Longa, November 1, 2021.

[48] B. Hirsch and M. Macpherson, “Union Membership, Coverage, Density and Employment by Industry, 2020,” http://www.unionstats.com/Ind_U_2020.htm; B. Hirsch and M. Macpherson, “

Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment Among All Wage and Salary Workers, 1973-2020,” http://www.unionstats.com/All-Wage-and-Salary-Workers.htm.

[49]  See Warehouse Workers for Justice, “The COVID Jungle,” January 2021, https://www.ww4j.org/blog/wwj-research-report-the-covid-jungle; See Chicago Workers Collaborative, “We Don’t Have the Luxury to Work from Home,” September 2020, https://www.chicagoworkerscollaborative.org/post/we-don-t-have-the-luxury-to-work-from-home.

[50] Mississippi SB2184 (2022) https://trackbill.com/bill/mississippi-senate-bill-2184-temporary-day-workers-protect-labor-and-employment-rights-of/2190332/.

[51] New Jersey S511/A1474 (2022) Provides certain protections and rights for temporary laborers, https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/Bills/2022/S1000/511_I1.HTM.

[52] Daisuke Wakabaynashi, “Google Temps Fought Loss of Pandemic Bonus. And Won,” The New York Times, November 5, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/05/technology/google-workers.html.

[53] California Assembly Bill 1897 (2014), https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB1897.

[54] The Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act of 2020 (S.4738), introduced by Senator Patty Murray, would require employers with over 100 employees to create and abide by supply chain responsibility plans, see https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/4738.

[55] H.R.7638 – Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/7638/text?r=2&s=1.

[56] S.4738 – A bill to provide a right to flexibility and to broaden and increase employee protections at work, to protect small businesses through shared responsibility for workers’ rights, to provide public transparency on workers’ rights violations, and for other purposes, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/4738.

[57] H.R.842 – Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/842.

[58] New Jersey S511/A1474 (2022) Provides certain protections and rights for temporary laborers, https://legiscan.com/NJ/bill/S511/2022.  

[59]  Mississippi SB2184 (2022) https://trackbill.com/bill/mississippi-senate-bill-2184-temporary-day-workers-protect-labor-and-employment-rights-of/2190332/.

[60] Massachusetts Temporary Workers Right to Know Law (M.G.L. c. 149, sec. 159C) (2012) https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXXI/Chapter149/Section159C.

[61] California AB-1897 (2014) Labor contracting: client liability, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB1897#.

[62] Illinois HB 690, https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocTypeID=HB&DocNum=

[63] “Washington state law aimed at protecting temp workers in construction, manufacturing,” Safety and Health, May 20, 2021, https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/21260-washington-state-law-aimed-at-protecting-temp-workers-in-construction-manufacturing.

[64] AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council, “NYC Council Passes Groundbreaking Bill Regulating Exploitative Construction Industry Body Shops,” November 12, 2021, https://www.nycclc.org/news/2021-11/nyc-council-passes-groundbreaking-bill-regulating-exploitative-construction-industry.

[65] Supra note 23.

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