Perpetuating Poverty: Tech and Temp Workers

There is much room to improve labor standards of temporary workers at tech firms. The National Employment Law Project and Temp Workers for Justice have produced a report that lays out the problem and future solutions. Dave DeSario is one of the co-authors of this report. The report’s other authors are Ben Gwin, United HCL Workers of Pittsburgh, and Laura Padin, NELP senior staff attorney.

“The issues of temp work aren’t just about an extra few dollars an hour,” DeSario told me, “it’s the larger system of “temporary” staffing. Temp jobs promise a path to permanent work, but the industry profits by perpetuating poverty for working people, keeping us stuck in low-wage permatemp positions for years, working hard but falling behind. It’s about being denied a fair chance at ever getting ahead.”

Such denial is the business model of tech firms where temp workers labor. Employer promises to temp workers of becoming permanent workers are hollow. Just ask Gina DePelsMaeker, who blogged about her eight years as a temp worker for Dow Inc. Kelly IT Services was the staffing agency that contracted with Dow for her labor. During that time, Gina lacked employer-provided health care insurance. She did not receive employer-matching contributions to her 401K, either.

Employer transparency with Sophia, a temp worker at a Dollar Tree distribution center in Morengo, Ohio, was a hot mess. She learned that the company’s permanent employees earned wage income of $4.50/hour (or $200 weekly) more than she did. To be clear, Sophia and the permanent workers did the same work. A staffing agency named Acloché that contracted with Dollar Tree had hired her as a temp worker.

Throughout the NELP/TWJ report, workers interviewed described similar labor arrangements.Congress is getting involved. Rep. Emanual Cleaver (D-MO) recently wrote to 24 big tech companies, citing the NELP/TWJ report. Rep. Cleaver asked in his two dozen letters to the tech firms for answers to such questions as the following.

How much are (staffing ed.) agencies charging, and how little are they paying? (This is “the spread,” the difference between what staffing agencies charge and what temp workers earn). How does temp worker pay compare to permanent workers doing similar jobs? How many temp & subcontracted workers shift into permanent positions?

Further, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) have introduced a bill, Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act, that would in part improve the labor standards of temp workers.

First, the Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act would strengthen the definition of “employee.” We know that defining who is and is not a company employee determines the labor standards of working people. It can be an employer’s dream to hire workers yet sidestep legal requirements for their employment standards as employees. Labor definitions matter.

Second, corporations would be legally accountable if/when they misclassify workers as independent contractors and deny these workers their legal rights. Apps-based firms such as rideshare companies Lyft and Uber are infamous for classifying drivers as independent contractors to squeeze them in ways big and small.

Third, Senators Murray, Brown and Representative DeLauro’s bill would increase job protections for temp workers, equalizing their pay with permanent employees, providing a genuine path to becoming company workers after a year of employment, and enabling access to unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

There is also help for mom and pop shops hanging on during a pandemic that monopoly companies are using to grow market share and profits. The Worker Flexibility and Small Business Protection Act will protect small franchises of big corporations through making parent corporations responsible for violating workers’ rights. CEOs and top shareholders would shoulder that responsibility.


Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email