Posts Tagged ‘temp workers’

A Steep Price: Studies Show the High Risks in Temporary Work

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Temp employment is one of the nation’s fastest growing job sectors – but as a new report from ProPublica shows, it comes with a very steep price: Temporary Work, Lasting Harm.

“A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims shows that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees.

In California and Florida, two of the largest states, temps had about 50 percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps. That risk was 36 percent higher in Massachusetts, 66 percent in Oregon and 72 percent in Minnesota.

These statistics understate the dangers faced by blue-collar temps like Davis. Nationwide, temps are far more likely to find jobs in dangerous occupations like manufacturing and warehousing. And their likelihood of injury grows dramatically.

In Florida, for example, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured than permanent employees doing similar jobs.”

Temp workers are performing some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the nation, often under the pressure of unforgiving schedules. They face new, unfamiliar work environments with little or no training; they often lack proper personal protective equipment, and frequently have little or no supervision. They are less likely to have the team support that regular workers might enjoy or the protections that a union might afford. The nature of the system is such that temp workers are penalized for making complaints lest they not be retained. They are often discouraged from reporting injuries – and many don’t know their rights in this regard.

“The temp agency is in this position of rehiring them over and over again or not hiring them,” said Linda Forst, an environmental and occupational health sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “So that’s a huge disincentive to report” workplace injuries, she said. “I think the number of temp workers who report is really low. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

As another ProPublic Report puts it: they are “the expendables” – and they are being crushed, literally and figuratively.
The new normal
If you were investing in stocks, gold watches would be a poor bet. Lifetime jobs are now the stuff of legend. The new normal is a contingent work force, which includes temp workers, contract workers, independent contractors, offshore workers and a grab-bag of alternative work arrangements.

“A job is a dying concept.” Stability is no longer the hallmark of a relationship between workers and employers, nor is a direct connection between the entity that writes a paycheck and the people who control the worksite. Policy researchers have noted that employers are shifting “from a ‘reactive’ use of temporary workers to fill the jobs of absent employees or to supplement permanent employees during a busy period to a ‘systematic’ use, ‘in which entire job clusters and industries are staffed with agency workers indefinitely.'”

This quote is an excerpt from a January 2013 whitepaper from The Center for Progressive Reform, At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions (PDF). The paper focused on “the public policy challenges that industry’s increasing reliance on contingent workers presents, and proposes a series of policy solutions aimed at protecting this growing segment of the workforce from unsafe working conditions. ”
The report highlights four industries that are heavily reliant on a temporary work force: farming, construction, warehousing and hotel workers. But these are hardly the only industries. Last spring, we posted The high price for fast phones: Cell tower deaths, noting how tower work is carried out by a complex web of subcontractors – an arrangement that makes good sense on many levels, but that allows large carriers to deflect responsibility for on-the-job work practices – and for any workplace deaths. These networks are like like the Russian nesting dolls: layer after layer of progressively smaller employers.
Workers compensation has often been called “the grand bargain.” a pact in which employers promised to replace lost wages and cover medical costs due to injury and workers agreed not to sue employers when the workers were injured on the job. Under this “exclusive remedy” system, it is in an employer’s best interests to provide a safe environment, to minimize injuries and to otherwise act in good faith with the work force in areas of health and safety. That “grand bargain” starts to fray around the edges with a continual stream of new, short-term workers who are hired and paid by someone other than the employer. The first ProPublica report notes:

“The growing reliance on temps subverts one of the strongest incentives for companies to protect workers. The workers’ comp system was designed to encourage safety through economic pressure; companies with higher injury rates pay higher insurance premiums. Hiring temp workers shields companies from those costs. If a temp worker gets hurt, the temp agency pays the workers’ comp, even though it has little or no control over job sites.”

In the past, temp workers were the exception, not the rule. But with the growth in the contingent workforce, the mutual benefit and loyalty on both sides of this equation are put to the test – and the power dynamic is in the hands of the employer, not the workers. This new normal will require new solutions and new approaches to worker safety.

Aaron Adair (34) died when he fell 50 feet from a building during his first day at work on a construction site – this week
Temporary worker dies at Amazon facility – in early December, a NJ employee was caught in and crushed by equipment
A worker’s first day at work shouldn’t be his last day on earth
Death of a Temp Worker