The American economy has witnessed the explosive growth of contingent employment—any job in which an individual does not have an explicit or implicit contract for long-term employment—over the past 30 years. In a new report from the Workers’ Rights Project entitled The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power, and prospects, authors Clermont Ripley and Allan Freyer examine several key trends related to the growth of contingent work, including a special focus on temporary work and charts the impacts on workers, the overall economy, and the fundamental relationship between employer and employee. Key findings include:

  • Contingent employment takes many forms. It includes using labor contractors, temporary help agencies, employee leasing companies or other labor intermediaries, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, franchising, and contracting out services and the production of goods. Employers use contingent workers for the core business functions of the firm (e.g., manufacturing), and not just for peripheral activities like facilities maintenance or clerical support.
  • About one-third of the entire American workforce can be classified as contingent workers. This includes part-time workers (13.2 percent of the total workforce), independent contractors (7.4 percent), self-employed workers (4.4 percent), and a combination of temporary workers hired through agencies, temps hired directly by an employer, and temps hired as contractors (5.6 percent).
  • Employers have increasingly relied on contingent workers as a strategy for keeping down labor costs, a strategy that has cushioned corporate bottom lines and contributed to middle class wage stagnation. Despite historic productivity gains boosting record levels of corporate profitability, employers have sought to keep labor costs low. Instead, they spent these productivity gains on executive compensation and income distributions to shareholders — benefitting wealthy investors at the expense of workers and their wages. That’s why North Carolina’s workers saw their productivity increase by 86 percent, while their hourly compensation increase by just 22 percent.
  • Although some workers may benefit from the flexibility afforded by voluntary nonstandard work, many workers are stuck in contingent work relationships involuntarily—a trend that increases the distance between employers and their employees, reduces wages, weakens worker bargaining power, and presents challenges that our nation’s outdated, employment-related regulatory structure is unable to adequately address.
  • An important form of contingent employment involves temporary work, nonpermanent jobs provided through staffing agencies that supply labor to client companies on a short-term basis.
  • Temp work is growing much faster in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole, a troubling trend since temp work pays a lot less the state’s average wage. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of temp workers grew by 52 percent in North Carolina, compared to 39 percent in the national economy as a whole. North Carolina temp workers earned just $30,627, far less than $45,022 average wage.
  • Temp work in North Carolina has grown as a share of the economy over the past five years, from 2.4 percent in 2009 to 3.4 percent in 2014. This trend matters for workers because it suggests that temporary work is growing at the expense of more permanent and stable work—and that there’s proportionally less stable work available in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole.
  • North Carolina needs more permanent work, not less, in order to provide workers with the stable, regular incomes they need to make ends meet, ensure financial security for themselves and their families, and ensure long-term upward mobility.

For how policymakers can address the growing challenges related to contingent work, follow us below the fold.

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Average working people will be raising their voices today to demand their fair share of the nation’s economic pie. As the good people at the AFL-CIO remind us:

Today is the day for the White House Summit on Worker Voice. Starting at 10:30 a.m. ET, you can watch the summit live right here. The summit is designed to bring together working people, labor leaders, advocates, employers, members of Congress, state and local officials and others to explore ways to make sure that working people are sharing in the benefits of economic growth and have access to a voice on the job.

To learn more about the summit, visit the official White House website.

Meanwhile, workers in North Carolina will gather at the state Legislative Building in Raleigh for the first “People’s Wage Board.” Here are the details:

The Fight for $15 and a union will convene a forum at the state legislature on October 7th to take testimony from workers and supporters and to call for the creation of a “People’s Wage Board” to advocate for raising wages in North Carolina.

What: Underpaid workers testify
When: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at noon
Where: NC General Assembly Building – 3rd Floor Auditorium, 16 W Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

From the Facebook event page:

Inspired by fast food workers in New York who for years organized, and took bold action that encouraged Governor Cuomo and his appointed Wage Board to recommend $15 an hour by 2020, underpaid workers in North Carolina are coming together to call on elected officials to give us a much needed raise to what we deserve: $15 an hour!

Home healthcare workers, fast food workers, child care workers, community members, and NC State Representative Yvonne Holley are putting together ‘A People’s Wage Board’ to record testimony from underpaid workers at the North Carolina Legislature.

The fastest growing jobs are also the lowest paid. With industries like fast food making $200 billion a year, we know the companies we work for can afford to pay us a living wage of $15 an hour so that we have enough to care for our families.

Stand with us as we call on elected officials to do the right thing, give struggling workers a raise so that we can lift up North Carolina!


unemploymentThere was a fine op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by an unemployed man from Salemburg named Bobby Parker about the sorry state of North Carolina’s bottom-of-the-barrel unemployment insurance system. And make no mistake; it is sorry. As a result of legislation passed in 2013, North Carolina’s once middle-of-the-pack system is now near the bottom in the nation in just about every category.

Consider the following stats from the U.S Department of Labor:

• Only 15% of the unemployed received benefits for the first quarter of 2015. This was 47th in the country.
• NC has an average weekly benefit amount of $231.30/week which ranks us 47th in the country.
• The average duration of benefits is 12.9 weeks, which ranks us 45th in the country.

Here is where things stood before the changes contained in House Bill 4 hit:

• 39% of the unemployed received benefits during the second quarter of 2013. This placed 24th in the country.
• NC had average weekly benefit amount of $301.06 which ranked 25th
• The average duration of benefits was 15.9 weeks, which ranked us 31st.

But wait, as Mr. Parker (and yesterday’s Progressive Voices contributor Steve Ford) explain, things are about to get worse. It turns out that even with the precipitous fall documented above, state lawmakers want to demand more from the unemployed by increasing their work search requirements. Here’s Mr. Parker:

“Now, state leaders want to make sure that you’re not sitting on your duff lapping up that $350 to lavish on, say, utilities to power your Internet job search, gas to get you to an interview or … food?

So they’re ready to require the unemployed to make and record at least five contacts per week with potential employers. Currently, the state requires two such contacts per week.

Simple and reasonable enough? Well, yes, it would be if those contacts were likely to be productive. But even with the current mandate of two, I find myself applying for jobs that I know I’m not going to get because I don’t have the experience or skills that match the available work.”

As Ford explains, the bill to make this all happen now sits on Governor McCrory’s desk awaiting his signature. He has until next Thursday to decide what to do — thus making it almost certain that not only will North Carolina make its scrooge-like system even stingier, it will do so during the week that is designed to honor workers of the nation. All in all, it’s an apt gesture from a group of politicians who almost never miss a chance to remind average workers of how little they are valued.


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.

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 third installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse. You can read the previous installments by clicking here and here.] 

I started this series in April on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith/religious community in promoting workers’ rights. I will alternate each month between the business community and faith community connection, and since I wrote my first business community piece last month, this month I introduce the faith perspective.

I write the faith perspective with a long history of leadership within the North Carolina Council of Churches, including serving as their President in 2011 and 2012. This strong and active organization within North Carolina includes 17 denominations and eight individual congregations that have over 6,200 congregations and about 1.5 million congregants.

The overall mission statement reads, “the Council enables denominations, congregations, and people of faith to individually and collectively impact our state on issues such as economic justice and development, human well-being, equality, compassion and peace, following the example and mission of Jesus Christ.

Wow!! Engaging people of faith to support fair treatment, compensation and benefits for all workers falls squarely in most of these individual elements. Let’s explore several of them one by one:

  • Economic Justice and Development. Even as we live in one of the richest nations of the world, the gap between the poor and wealthy continues to grow, and many people even with full time jobs struggle with living in poverty.
  • Human well-being. Typically those in the lower paying jobs struggle to barely survive, and often do not receive benefits higher wage earners commonly receive critical to human health and well-being. Lower wage earners often go without healthcare benefits, family leave to deal with illness, fair treatment during pregnancy and more.
  • Equality. It is only fair that all hard working people are compensated well enough to live and afford basic necessities.
  • Compassion. People of faith should always have a strong commitment to bettering the lives of all people, and true compassion means speaking out and advocating for those who are struggling to survive and may not have the time and energy to engage in this advocacy.

While the North Carolina Council of Churches is itself overtly Christian, many of the committees and task groups working on issues such as this (see for example the N.C. Families Care Coalition) are interfaith and include members from non-Christian faith communities as well as additional Christian denomination not a part of the Council. This underlines that promoting justice in our world is a strong common commitment across the universal faith and human community.

I now look forward to continuing this faith discussion in alternating months.