TWJ Blog

  • Dave DeSario

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Most blue-collar temp jobs in the U.S. are staffed by African-American and Latinx workers. This is not a measure of diversity: it’s discrimination. There is “diversity” in temp staffing as there is among pay-day loan recipients or in the prison system. Newly available data shows that the problem is even worse than previously known.

The Illinois Department of Labor began tracking demographic information of temp agency workers in 2018/2019 as mandated by the Responsible Jobs Creation Act. The data collection methods differ from established U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) practices, capturing a clearer picture of blue-collar temp workers. This first ever analysis of the new data reveals:

  • 85% of blue-collar temp assignments are staffed by non-white workers in a state where non-white workers are just 35% of the workforce (Illinois). 78% of those temp assignments went to African-American and Latinx workers.

  • Blue-collar temp workers are nearly 3 times more likely to be African-American and Latinx than the overall workforce. (2.80x for African-American and 2.74x for Latinx - Illinois)

  • The over-representation of African-American and Latinx workers found in blue-collar temp assignments is more than twice as significant as BLS data has established for the temporary staffing industry.

Temp jobs perpetuate poverty instead of providing a pathway out of it. They often require the same skills and responsibilities as traditional, direct-hire positions, but offer far less compensation and stability. As companies cut corners and cut costs, it's often temporary staffing agencies that facilitate the race to the bottom. Temp workers receive less training and suffer higher rates of injury. They almost never receive benefits, have unpredictable schedules where assignments can end at any moment, and are treated like second-class citizens in workplaces where legal barriers make unionization almost impossible, and where managers and permanent workers may never bother to learn their names. That is not even to speak of abuses like wage theft, sexual harassment, hidden non-compete agreements that block access to good jobs, and permatemping: where so-called “temps” are on the job for years. In Illinois, the average temp spends six years in “temporary” assignments, and 4 out of 5 never have a temp job turn into a permanent one.

The temp industry may get a worker’s foot in the door, but it isn’t letting them all the way in, preventing a mostly African-American and Latinx workforce from achieving stable employment, economic security, and equality.

Read the full report here:

Race, to the Bottom Dec 2020
Download PDF • 11.78MB

  • Dave DeSario

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

The Restoring Worker Power Act of 2020 was introduced yesterday, co-sponsored by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO). It is the first federal bill to propose regulating temp agencies and protecting temp workers since 1999, and a major victory for workers and our allies.

What it Means for Temp Workers

The bill is a long way from becoming law. But, if enacted, it would give temp workers additional rights and the power to enforce those rights. Most importantly:

1. Equal Pay For Equal Work

Temps will earn the same pay as regular employees for doing the same job. This is particularly important in the staffing industry where low wages and an overrepresentation of Black and Latinx workers perpetuates economic and racial inequality.

2. Safe Workplaces

Temps will be given equal safety training as permanent employees doing the same work, must be included in all health and safety meetings in the workplace, and told of any potential hazards 48 hours before beginning a job.

3. Right to Know

Temps will receive information about the terms and conditions of their employment, including how much agencies take out of their paychecks, eliminating undisclosed fees.

4. A Path to Permanent Work

Non-compete agreements and forced arbitration are banned, and all conversion fees for hiring workers into permanent jobs will be eliminated after 60 days of temping. This will reduce the abusive practice of permatemping, ensuring a path to permanent work.

Advancing the Interests of Temp Workers

Temp Worker Justice is continuing a national survey of temp workers. Data from the survey is often requested by policymakers and advocates to better understand the experiences of workers, and how to improve the temporary staffing industry. Current and recent temp workers should take the survey here:



  • George Gonos

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Comment on the NLRB’s Proposed Definition of Joint Employer

President Trump’s new appointees at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are on a mission. Quietly, the new Board majority is pushing hard (along with Republican members of congress) to implement a regulation that would help employers continue to deny the union rights and hold down the wages of tens of millions of American workers for some time to come.

The regulation being championed by Trump’s NLRB is a revised (one might say rigged) definition of the term joint employer. How this term is defined and interpreted determines whether workers in certain employment arrangements (most especially temp agency workers, franchised workers, and some subcontracted workers) are able to hold accountable to law, as responsible joint employers, parent corporations that exercise a substantial share of control over their wages and working conditions. What the new NLRB members are proposing is to lock into U.S. labor policy an even narrower and more pernicious version of the joint employer standard that the NLRB had upheld, in one way or another, for several decades. Under that standard, a practice of dubious legality was allowed to spread throughout our economy wherein major corporations appropriate and exploit the labor of certain groups of American workers without recognizing them as their legal employees, thereby denying those workers the protections that our labor and employment laws afford only to employees, and stripping them of any voice or bargaining rights within the giant companies for which they provide labor inputs and create wealth.

To the supporters of the NLRB’s proposed joint employer definition (that is, the corporate employers, temporary staffing agencies and giant franchisors that ride the gravy train), this move by the new Board majority was made necessary by a decision late in the term of President Obama’s NLRB, in August, 2015. In that ruling, involving Browning Ferris Industries (BFI), the Board broadened the old joint employer test, and raised hopes that temps and franchised workers might get the chance to exercise the employee rights long denied them, in relation to the parent corporations that control their working conditions. That decision provided, for the first time, a realistic legal framework for “temps,” franchised workers, and workers in extended subcontracting chains to form or join unions where they work.

The standard set forth in the BFI decision could help temps in many workplaces to establish that the companies that hire them through commercial temp and staffing agencies, (like Nissan and many other auto manufacturers where temps work), co-determine the terms and conditions of their employment and are therefore joint employers. (Similarly, it could enable workers in many franchised outlets to prove that the giant franchisors, like McDonalds, controlling their working conditions are their joint employers.) That would legally obligate these parent employers to recognize and bargain with labor unions that include these workers, and make the big companies liable for unfair labor practices they commit, like when they terminate and replace temps who raise concerns about their low pay and often horrific working conditions. It wouldn’t be easy, but finally, with the BFI decision, “temps” and franchised workers do have the ability to bring those giant parent corporations that control their work to the bargaining table, to negotiate for better conditions and a fair share of the wealth they create.

It is to prevent this scenario, that is, to reverse the ruling in BFI, that the NLRB’s conservative members now advance a narrow and obfuscatory definition of joint employer, one that would block the extension of employee rights to these groups of workers, silence their voices and keep them from asserting economic pressure on corporate America. Characteristically, Trump’s NLRB seeks to implement the proposed policy not through that institution’s normal process (the adjudication of cases, based on facts and law), but by promulgating their definition of joint employer as a regulation, which is a purely political process.

Should the effort succeed, their revision of the joint employer rule would uphold corporate America’s current practice of treating temps and franchised workers as nobodies (or what the temp staffing industry calls “non-employees”), even when the clear facts of the employment relationship more than suffice to show a parent employer’s substantial role in controlling their work. It would allow corporations to continue evading the laws that apply to all employers, effectively leaving layers of workers without rights and the subjects of rapacious exploitation.

In short, which version of the joint employer rule prevails will help determine whether corporate employers can continue their mass escape from accountability to the nation’s laws and social norms surrounding work and employment. It will help determine also whether this giant game of pretend, in which productive workers are treated as “non-employees” by giant employers, will continue, and whether wealth generation for the rich continues to depend so heavily on the pauperization of the working poor.

George Gonos, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

State University of New York at Potsdam

Currently: Adjunct Professor

Center for Labor Research & Studies

Florida International University