Commentary

The explosive growth in “temp” work and the threat it poses to us all

PV-contingent-work1Our new report, “The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power and prospects”, highlights the explosive growth of the use of temporary staffing agencies to supply workers and how that harms our economy. Meanwhile, a heart-wrenching piece on the Huffington Post today shows just how devastating temp work can be for workers (and their families) who have no other options but to accept temp jobs.

The article tells the story of Jeff Lockhart Jr, a Virginia man who got a job at the new Amazon fulfillment warehouse outside of Richmond after a long period of unemployment and died on the job a couple months later.  Although he worked at the Amazon facility, he and most of his colleagues were temp workers hired, supervised, and paid by a temporary staffing company.  The article also explains why the use of temps by large companies is on the rise.

When it comes to low-wage positions, companies like Amazon are now able to precisely calibrate the size of its workforce to meet consumer demand, week by week or even day by day. Amazon, for instance, says it has 90,000 full-time U.S. employees at its fulfillment and sorting centers—but it plans to bring on an estimated 100,000 seasonal workers to help handle this year’s peak. Many of these seasonal hires come through Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Delaware-based temp firm. The company’s website recently listed 22 corporate offices throughout the country, 15 of which were recruiting offices for Amazon fulfillment centers, including the one in Chester.

This system isn’t unique to Amazon—it pervades the U.S. retail supply chain. Read more

Commentary

The link between supporting workers’ rights and economic justice – the “race wealth” gap

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the latest installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read his most recent previous installments by clicking here and here.]

In this month’s post, I return to the subject of engaging the business community in promoting worker’s rights.

Most corporate mission statements include a statement about enhancing the overall well-being of the communities they work in and sell to. Moreover, such statements often include items like assisting with economic development in traditionally depressed areas. Too often, however, these statements fail to match words with deeds.

There is a strong connection between this “economic and community involvement” and the issue of racism in the United States. In the Winter 2015 edition of The Crisis — the magazine of the national NAACP — the finance column article was entitled “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do. It’s Good Economics.” The article quoted the alarming statistic that the median net worth of White families is 9.5 times that of Hispanic families and 12 times that of Black families, with just a miniscule improvement in the past 50 years.

Here are some additional alarming statistics:

  • The 2010 US Census declared that 15.1% (over 46 million people!) of Americans were living in poverty.
  • That Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the poverty numbers (Over 28% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics.)
  • The poverty rate for women single head of households was 5 times the poverty rate of families with two parents.

Why is this important in the workers’ rights discussion? Because it is most often these poorest families that are Black or Hispanic with the wage earners bringing in the lowest pay with the least amount of benefits. When an illness hits and a parent needs to take time off of work, or when a woman needs to take time off to have a baby, these families of color do not have the accumulated net worth and resources to fall back on to bridge the financial crisis. This will often result in losing homes, ending up on the street, getting more ill, etc. In the long run, this will cost the American country more in health care costs, crisis intervention and public assistance.

In other words: If companies do want to hold true to their pledges to better the communities they are in, more basic benefits must be made available to the lowest paid employees in the enterprise.

Commentary

Supporting workers’ rights should be a faith community priority

Stan KimerHaving started this series in late April on the importance of engaging both the business and the faith/religious communities in promoting workers’ rights, I am now alternating each post between the business community and faith community connection.

A few months ago I read and clipped out of the Raleigh News and Observer (originally printed in the New York Times) a provocative article titled “Do Churches Fail the Poor?” by Ross Douthat.  I saved it knowing I would write about it in this blog. I felt the title was indeed relevant since it is primarily workers living near the poverty level that ironically receive the fewest employments benefits and rights.

This fascinating article led with a quote from a Harvard University social scientist Robert Putnam who said, “Most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they have been using all their resources for …. not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

When sharing the stage at an event with Dr. Putnam, President Obama remarked, “Despite great caring and concern, when churches pick the defining issue that’s really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, fighting poverty is often seen merely as a ‘nice to have’ compared to ‘an issue like abortion.’”

The Douthat article went on to attempt to debunk this critique by pointing out that religious charities direct billions of dollars to important and helpful institutions like schools and hospitals. But no matter what side of this discussion you fall on, I do feel strongly that people of faith should increase their focus on advocating for better rights and benefits for the most vulnerable of working Americans. If you are involved in a place of worship, consider helping to start a committee to research and take action on this issue, starting with accessing resources available through the North Carolina Council of Churches and the North Carolina Justice Center. Here are some links that might prove helpful in such an endeavor:

The NC Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project,

The NC Council of Churches Lectionary on Living Wages and

the Council of Churches Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit.

Commentary

President Obama helps the workers he can; millions more wait for fair treatment

President Obama 4It’s hard to believe that workers are still fighting for such a basic human right in 2015, but yesterday marked an important bit of progress in the age old battle to secure fair treatment for American workers. In a move that is expected to help 300,000 workers, President Obama issued a Labor Day executive order requiring federal contractors to allow their employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick days per year.

This is from a fact sheet distributed yesterday by the White House:

“In most families today, both parents work and have responsibilities caring for their children, aging parents, or family members with disabilities.  Yet the fundamental structure of work has not kept pace with the changing American family, and many families are struggling to balance obligations at home and on the job. As a result, too many workers are unable to take the time they need to recover from an illness. Many workers will go to work sick, putting their coworkers and customers at risk of illness. Many parents are forced to choose between taking an unpaid day off work—losing much needed income and potentially threatening their jobs—and sending a sick child who should be home in bed to school.

Today, the President will sign an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to offer their employees up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.  He will travel to Boston to renew his call on Congress to pass legislation expanding paid sick and family leave, and announce new Department of Labor rules giving federal contract workers new tools to demand equal pay.”

Though a welcome and absurdly overdue step, President Obama’s order is — like so many of actions of late — badly hamstrung by the failure of Congress to act on the issue. The sad and simple truth, of course, is that the United States is the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t make paid sick days a basic guarantee for all workers. Thanks to the power of business lobbyists, millions of American workers and their families suffer each year as sick people troop unnecessarily (and at great risk to public health) to work and school. As Chris Fitzsimon points out in this morning’s “Numbers” column, more than a million of these workers are right here in North Carolina.

So, the bottom line: Thank you, President Obama, for again doing what you can to nudge the nation forward. Too bad the rest of the powers that be in the nation’s capital remain happily mired in the ideology and policies of the 19th Century.

Learn more about the fight for paid sick days in North Carolina by clicking here.

Commentary

National labor board decision is an important victory for workers

NLRBA lot of people are engaged in nonstandard employment today.  Whether you call it contingent work, the gig economy, the “sharing” economy or outsourcing, they are all models in which the workers who perform labor do not have a recognized employer-employee relationship with the business or entity for whom they are performing labor.  These models have become more prevalent over the last thirty years or so.  The use of temporary staffing companies to supply labor, or “temps,” is just one example.  Temps used to be mostly used for white-collar secretarial work, but they have become increasingly common for blue-collar work such as manufacturing jobs, construction and janitorial work.

Our labor and employment laws have not kept up with this changing reality of work.  But in a 3-2 decision issued last week, the National Labor Relations Board has revised its joint employment standard to reflect the reality of these new employment relationships.  In a statement released last week by the NLRB, they explained:

“The revised standard is designed ‘to better effectuate the purposes of the Act in the current economic landscape.’  With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances.”

The decision addressed the question of who were the employers of temporary staffing company workers and concluded that both the staffing company and the staffing company’s client where the workers were placed had sufficient control over the employees to be considered joint employers.  This is a victory for the workers and union involved because it means that the workers have a protected right to bargain with the larger company that controls the terms of their employment and not just with the staffing company.

It is also a victory for workers more broadly.  The growth of contingent employment has reduced the ability of workers to collectively bargain because layers of intermediaries have separated workers from the company that actually has power over their working conditions.  This decision — if it is not overturned when it is inevitably appealed– removes one incentive for employers to use labor intermediaries in order to avoid liability and restores a little bit of power to the workers.