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The system is designed to discriminate, and to hide it. 

Opening the Door: Ending Racial Discrimination in Industrial Temp Hiring Through Innovative Enforcement

By "testing" 60 temp agencies, sending in pairs of job applicants who were the same in every way but their race, we created the evidence we need to fight back against discrimination in the temporary staffing industry.

The work was led by partners organizations: Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, National Legal Advocacy Network, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Partners for Dignity & Rights (formerly the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative).


Opening the Door: Ending Racial Discrimination in Industrial Temp Hiring Through Innovative Enforcement contains statistically-significant findings from a first of-its-kind study designed by the Equal Rights Center to measure the prevalence of race-based hiring discrimination and job channeling amongst Black and Latinx workers in the Chicago area’s industrial temp staffing sector.

Temp workers speak out about the discrimination they experienced in hirnig, job placement, and at the worksite.


Findings from Worker-Led Investigations:

63% of agencies engaged in discrimination, particularly against black applicants.

The only jobs offered at near equivalent rates were for the less desirable positions: second or third shifts, or lower-paying jobs ($8-$11.00 per hour).

Testing Anecdote

At 8:50 a.m. on a Tuesday, Lorraine, a 39-year-old Black woman with warehouse, assembly and other work experience, entered a staffing agency in DuPage County near O’Hare Airport. An employee of the agency told Lorraine about three jobs. The first involved heavy lifting, the second was on the graveyard shift, and the third was a second-shift job as a warehouse picker for a distribution center that paid $12.40 per hour. When Lorraine expressed interest in the last job, the employee told her that the computers were down, so she needed to fill out an eight-page paper application. When Lorraine finished with that, the employee explained she needed to perform a drug test immediately and pass a background check before she could begin work. Lorraine agreed to the drug test on site, and the next morning the agency employee called to say her drug test cleared and she could begin work.


About eight minutes after Lorraine, Patricia, a 42-year-old Latinx woman, entered the same agency and spoke with the same agency employee. Unlike Lorraine, the agency employee told Patricia that she could complete an application on the computer. The employee then offered Patricia a second-shift job at a flower company starting in a week that paid $13 per hour plus productivity bonuses, which, according to the employee, would allow Patricia to make up to $15-20 per hour. The employee said it was a temporary position, but good because of the bonus pay, and offered to send Patricia to other jobs once that job was finished. The employee gave Patricia an assignment slip for the job without administering a drug test or mentioning a background check.


Neither Lorraine nor Patricia received any information about the jobs the other was offered. Read the full report here. 

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MATCHED PAIR TESTING is a well-established research method for measuring and documenting patterns of discrimination against marginalized groups. It has been used in investigations by federal agencies, and the data gained through testing has been recognized by courts as the basis for litigation. Matched pairs of testers are carefully selected and trained so that each pair of testers has the same job-relevant qualifications such as education and work experience, but is different in one crucial variable, such as race. The goal is to present two applicants who are similar in every respect except one, and thereby measure the effect of that one differing characteristic on the pair’s success

in seeking employment.


Discrimination is any unfair treatment based on gender, race/ethnicity, age, religion, country of origin, language, physical appearance, or disability.

In some cases, there is widespread discriminatory hiring as part of a temporary staffing agency's normal practice, while in other cases, worksite employers intentionally use temporary staffing agencies to hide illegal, discriminatory hiring by requesting workers of a particular race or gender. At times, those requests are very direct:

In New Jersey, blacks were called “number 2s.”

In Illinois, “Code 3” meant a Latino worker.

A Texas temp agency called whites “blue eyes.”

An Ohio agency called them “vanilla cupcakes,” “hockey players” or someone “like you and me.”

Another agency owner in Alabama was accused of running her finger along her own white cheek to indicate a preference for whites.

In Texas, “bilingual” often meant a request for Latinos in jobs where speaking more than one language wasn’t necessary.

-Reveal News, (2016) When Companies Hire Temp Workers by Race, Black Applicants Lose Out 

Since temp agency workers are not their employees, the discrimination will not be evident in a hiring company's own demographic data. The same can be true with temp agencies. Illinois is the only state in the U.S. to require that temp agencies track the demographic information of workers, beginning to hold agencies accountable. In all other states, temp agencies only report the demographic data of their internal employees, not the temporary workforce.

Despite the challenges, temporary workers are organizing and winning justice for themselves and their coworkers in cases of discrimination.

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