Backbreaking Blue-Collar Temp Work
In the two weeks that I spend working out of Oakland’s Labor Ready branch, my “honest pay” tops out at $8.75 an hour. I’ll clean a yard for a trucking firm, scrape industrial glue from cement floors for a construction company, and screw on the caps of bottles at an massage oil company whose “Making Love” line is a bestseller. I’ll also move heavy tools for a multinational corporation that repairs boilers on ships and be asked to serve food at Oakland A’s games for Aramark, a $13 billion powerhouse. I wasn’t able to take that one, but if I had, I would have been earning $8 an hour next to unionized workers making $14.30.
Mother Jones has a great inside look at the booming blue-collar temp industry. There was a time when you could get a steady job in a manufacturing plant, or doing construction—heavy labor jobs that took a toll on your body, but had moderate pay and benefits like workers comp if you got injured, health insurance if you got sick, and vacation time so you could recover from all that backbreaking work you were doing. Perhaps you had a union negotiating these benefits on your behalf. A lot of those jobs have disappeared—at least the kinds with adequate pay and benefits. Now you can dig a ditch, or remove debris from demolished buildings for minimum wage using a temp agency. Profits are soaring for companies like Labor Ready, which wants to become “the McDonald’s of the temp industry,” and the businesses that use temp agencies love the fact that they don’t have to dish out benefits for these workers. As you can imagine, the turnover rate is high—nobody wants to stick around for this kind of work for little pay and no benefits for very long.