Survey of Temp Workers Spotlights Widespread Industry Abuses: Poverty Pay, Permatemping, Wage Theft, Unsafe Conditions

Call for ‘equal pay for equal work’; 4 in 5 would join union to improve work conditions

Nationwide—Workplace deaths, lack of safety training, retaliation from bosses, poverty pay, rampant wage theft, and “permatemping” are among the abysmal working conditions endured by temp workers, as revealed in a new report issued today by a coalition of temp worker and labor advocacy groups.

“Temporary” workers have helped keep the country running throughout the pandemic. Their work for the largest corporations, in the most essential industries, has made it possible for others to safely stay at home. Yet, most people have little sense of what it’s like to work in the temp industry.

The report, Temp Workers Demand Good Jobs, draws from unprecedented national surveys of 1,337 temp workers conducted between 2019 and 2021. 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—to conduct the surveys and issue the report.

The temp workers who responded to the survey are employed by some of the largest staffing agencies in the U.S., including Aerotek, Adecco, Manpower Group, Kelly Services, Robert Half, and Randstad. They work for host employers such as Amazon, Walmart, Google, and Tyson Foods. Respondents answered questions about pay, benefits, health and safety, discrimination, employer retaliation, and other issues.

Key findings of the report include the following:

  • Wage theft: One in four temp workers (24%) 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”: One in three temp workers (35%) reported that their current temp assignment had lasted over one year, and nearly one in five (18%) reported that their current temp assignment had lasted over two years.
  • Workplace injury: One in six temp workers (17%) reported experiencing a work-related injury or illness while employed through a staffing agency. Of those workers, 41 percent said that they covered healthcare costs themselves, out of pocket or through their own health insurance.
  • Employer retaliation: Seven in ten temp workers (71%) said that they experienced some form of retaliation for raising workplace issues with a supervisor or management.
  • Interest in joining a worker organization: Four in five temp workers (80%) reported interest in joining a worker organization like a union that works to improve conditions for temp workers.

‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’

Worker groups are calling on policymakers to ensure that temp workers receive equal pay for equal work, and that both staffing agencies and the companies that hire them are held accountable for compliance with labor standards. They are also calling for an end to “permatemping”, demographic reporting to combat hiring and job placement discrimination, and strong anti-retaliation protections for whistleblowers.

Temp workers are often hired to do the same work as workers hired directly by the company where they are placed, but without the same wages, benefits, protections, or job security. That means that two workers at a single worksite and with identical tenure could be doing the same job, but one earns less money than the other. And temp workers are often placed in dangerous jobs without adequate safety training.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a surge in e-commerce has spurred growth in industries such as warehousing, where companies often temp out work. According to temp industry estimates, between 13 and 16 million U.S. workers find work via staffing agencies each year, and those numbers are growing. Evidence shows that host employers contracting out work to staffing agencies reduces job quality for workers, and worsens inequality and racial segregation.

Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in staffing agency work. Black workers are 12.2 percent of the overall workforce, but they make up 23.2 percent of temporary help and staffing agency workers. Black workers are 33.0 percent of temp workers in manufacturing and warehousing occupations, compared to 15.5 percent of overall manufacturing and warehousing workers.

Temp Workers Speak Out

Over the past five years, Alfred White, one of the temp workers surveyed, has obtained multiple warehousing and food processing jobs through temp agencies in Will County, Illinois. Will County, about 45 miles southwest of Chicago, is the largest inland port in North America.

“Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve temped in warehouses with no safety protocols, no masks, no social distancing,” said temp worker Alfred White, who is a member of Warehouse Workers for Justice and the National Temp Worker Council at Temp Worker Justice. “But even before the pandemic I was put in unsafe situations—any time you put me in front of a machine that I’m not properly trained to operate, me and my coworkers are at risk. That happens too often. Most of us are scared to speak up because we’re afraid of retaliation and we’re barely scraping by, just trying to put food on the table. That’s why we need to organize and educate each other about our rights on the job and fight for better laws to protect us.”

Alfred explains that a conviction record has limited his opportunities for work, forcing him to take low-paying temp jobs. He believes that Black men with conviction records are especially likely “to be temps forever” and endure the economic insecurity and inequitable treatment that comes with that status.

“As a temp, they don’t care about your safety, or us as people,” said Antonia Bannister, a member of the National Temp Worker Council at Temp Worker Justice. “Everybody is expendable because the staffing agency can always get another person to work that position.”

Coalition Voices

U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, sponsor of federal legislation to improve temp worker labor standards, said, “This eye-opening report helps to highlight the fact that, in America, temporary employees work just as hard as permanent workers, yet they receive smaller paychecks, less job stability/certainty, and fewer workplace protections. To level the playing field for American workers and ensure that working class families receive their fair share of the pie from a growing economy—something Fortune 500 companies have clearly demonstrated they are unwilling to do—it is critical that Congress take action to protect temp workers now. That’s why I’m working diligently to reintroduce a strengthened Restoring Worker Power Act, which will guarantee temp workers receive equal pay for equal work.”

Lou Kimmel, Executive Director of New Labor, said, “For us, participating in the TWJ Survey Series project is about putting numbers to the realities we already know and live as temp workers: unsafe conditions, wage theft, discrimination, lack of respect, and inequitable treatment. The survey data helps to quantify these problems and make them real. We hope that the data show the need to make changes to the temp industry, be it at a local, state or federal level. Politicians everywhere have temp agencies operating in their districts, and they have an obligation to support legislation that is pro justice for temp workers. Here in New Jersey, we’re advancing legislation that would ensure temp workers get equal pay for equal work and much more.”

Dave DeSario, Director of Temp Worker Justice, said, “So-called ‘temp’ work is a scam: it keeps working people in poverty instead of providing a pathway out of it. Across the country, temp workers are coming together and building a powerful movement for change. They deserve and want nothing less than equal pay for equal work, and are calling on legislators to act.”

Jaribu Hill, Executive Director of Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, said, “Our organization has been fighting for the dignity and safety of the Mississippi Delta’s most vulnerable workers for more than two decades. We’ve seen too many Black and Latinx workers suffer from wage and benefit disparities, permatemping, and endure physically hazardous working conditions in the Delta’s food processing, auto parts manufacturing and assembly, warehousing, laundry, and other industries. We’re shedding the light on the abuses and injustices suffered by temp workers. And we’re calling on corporations and policymakers to change corporate and public policy so that temp worker abuse ends.”

Clermont Ripley, Co-Director of the Workers’ Rights Project at North Carolina Justice Center, said, “We hope the data and worker stories we gathered for this report will help garner support for policy changes that will turn temp jobs into good jobs and reduce the overall reliance on temp work here in North Carolina. No worker should be denied rights and dignity on the job, whether hired directly by a company or through a temp agency.”

Chicago Workers Collaborative’s Leadership and Advocacy Manager, José Frausto, said, “Here in Chicago, thousands of workers trek across the city and to the suburbs to do temp work in manufacturing plants and in warehouses. Hard-won regulations by worker groups have improved conditions for temp workers in Illinois, but too many still experience wage theft and workplace injuries. That’s why we continue to organize for change.”

NELP Executive Director Rebecca Dixon said, “The National Employment Law Project came together with temp worker and worker advocacy groups to educate the public about the experience of temp workers, who for too long have suffered from racial discrimination, wage theft, dangerous working conditions, and inequality on the job. This report is not only intended to inform, but to create real material improvement in the lives of temp workers through worker organizing and policy change.”

Temp Workers Demand Good Jobs: Survey Reveals Poverty Pay, Permatemping, Deceptive Recruitment Practices, and Other Job Quality Issues


Temp Worker Justice
Temp Worker Justice (TWJ) is the national organization for temporary workers, founded in 2019. It empowers workers and workers’ organizations seeking justice and fairness in the workplace. TWJ provides research and education, and connects workers to on-the-ground organizing and legal support. It builds the capacity for action through partner organizations and workplace leaders, advancing workers’ rights. Learn more at

Chicago Workers Collaborative
Chicago Workers’ Collaborative is a worker center founded in 2000 to promote the creation of stable, living wage jobs with racial and gender equity for the lowest wage-earners, primarily temp staffing workers, in the Chicago region, through leadership and skills training, critical assistance and services, advocacy and collaborative action. CWC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Learn more at

Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights
The Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights (MWCHR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to provide legal advocacy and training for low-wage Black workers. Through direct action/public awareness campaigns, legal advocacy, and popular education, MWCHR collaborates with workers to create better workplace conditions and ensure that all workers are treated with dignity and respect and have equal access to good jobs and humane living conditions, regardless of their race, creed, gender or religion.  Learn more at

National Employment Law Project
Founded in 1969, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is a leading nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to building a just and inclusive economy where all workers have expansive rights and thrive in good jobs. Together with local, state, and national partners, NELP advances its mission through transformative legal and policy solutions, research, capacity-building, and communications. Learn more at

New Labor
Founded in 2000, New Labor is an organization that educates, organizes, and fights for better work conditions and social justice in the workplace. With a base of around 4,000 members, and centers in New Brunswick, Lakewood, and Newark, New Jersey, New Labor organizes to empower members and amplify their voices in the community, workplace, and political realm. New Labor is a 501(c)(3) organization. Learn more at

North Carolina Justice Center
Founded in 1996, the North Carolina Justice Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, working on issues of concern to North Carolinians with low incomes. As a leading progressive research and advocacy organization, our mission is to eliminate poverty in North Carolina by ensuring that every household in the state has access to the resources, services, and fair treatment it needs to achieve economic security. Learn more at

Warehouse Workers for Justice
Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) is a worker center founded in 2008 to win stable, living wage jobs with dignity for the hundreds of thousands of workers in Illinois’ logistics and distribution industry. WWJ provides workshops about workplace rights, unites warehouse workers to defend their rights on the job, builds community support for the struggles of warehouse workers and fights for public and private policies that promote full-time work at decent wages in the warehouse industry.  WWJ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Learn more at

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