Temporary Agencies Exploit Desperate Populations

by Matthew E. Hayes and Brian Davis

"Get a job, you bum!" is the cry heard by many of the homeless downtown from the politically correct population. The Homeless Grapevine has asked a number of the low income/homeless at a local meal site about the only Mecca left for jobs in the 90's--the temporary service.
     The common complaints included an extremely long wait before being sent out on a job assignment, another long wait before receiving their pay, and the exposure to dangerous working conditions. Andrew Duetch of Minuteman Temporary Agency said that it is always difficult in dealing with all the personalities of the temps. He said, "You have to understand we are not selling pens, we are selling human beings."
Jason, who had recently worked at Jacob's Field, cited lack of communication between the agencies and employers as one of his main complaints. "When you go over they [temp agency] want you to be there [Jacob's Field] by 2:00 p.m., then they change the time and tell you to sign up in the morning." Another concern of Jason's is the tendency of temporary agencies to only give jobs to people they have seen regularly or know. The rest of the people must wait days or weeks before being sent out to work.
     Chris Dobias, Cleveland manager at Ameritemps said that individuals are sent out the same day they apply, and the wait is, "maybe an hour." They do not pay temps to wait, because they are not physically working. He said, "If you get here early, you get the best jobs."
     Rinaldo, a meal site customer and part time temp employee also was upset with the long wait involved in getting temporary employment. "They always send out regulars. How do you become a regular?" He once sat at AAA [All American Temporary Agency] for three weeks without being sent out on a job. Minutemen, however, sends its workers into "dangerous conditions but they'll send you out." Some of his temp jobs included loading and unloading trucks at St. Vincent de Paul and working at a heat treatment place for metals. The second job involved being exposed to fire, smoke, and dust particles in temperatures over 300 degrees with no face masks available for protection. Rinaldo believes putting temps into this type of working condition is a form of discrimination.
     Joe who does not give his last name of AAA temporary company said it has "absolutely never" happened that an employee has waited three weeks for a job. He said 9 out of 10 people get a job immediately. "There is usually no wait. Between the 28th and 16th [of a month] we are hurting for people." He said this was attributed to the timing of the welfare and the food stamps checks.
     Deutch of Minuteman said the average wait was one half hour. In response to the temps facing dangerous jobs, he said, "I don't think we have any jobs like that. Jobs of that nature are usually automated. We have so much competition we do everything we can to make our temps happy." Deutch admitted 15 years ago "temps were treated like dirt," but with all the competition today temps are given a great deal of respect.
     Despite all the competition, Minuteman said that the average wage is $4.50-$4.75 an hour [$4.75 an hour is $9,880 a year. The federal definition of poverty for 1995 is $7,470 for 1 and $10,030 for a family of 2], and they sent out 19,000 W-2's last year. Deutch asserted that temp agencies are a supplement to Food Stamps or government assistance. "I agree that it is difficult to make a living. You have to understand that we are a business here."
     Gerald, who has worked as a machine operator, had a more reasonable opinion about temporary job agencies. He claimed that they treat you fair and only expect you to do your job. His only complaint being that "they don't pay enough." In regards to becoming a regular at an agency, he pointed out that if "somebody shows up who they don't know, they'll send out somebody they know who is consistent."
     Deutch echoed Gerald's comments saying that they send out those that show up on a regular basis to the best jobs. "We put the best person on the best job...We match the job to the person's qualifications," he said. "One major problem that we do have," Deutch explained, "is these people that we do have and we send out don't come back. This keeps the company from hiring them full time."
     When asked about the difference between the price that the company pays to the temporary service and what the temp gets paid, Deutch said, "Workers Compensation percentages are astronomical. The margin of what we make as a profit is not that much. We are able to keep our heads above water."
     Dobias of Ameritemps when asked how much money the temporary agency makes from each person said, "I can't give you that. We are in the business to make money." He did say that the amount paid to the temp and the amount the company is charged is up to the owners and the managers. When pressed he said the average that a company pays is about $6 an hour for light industrial work. The Homeless Grapevine did some checking and found Minuteman quoted a price of $8.25, Manpower was charging $9.50, Area Temps charges $10.72, and Ran Temporary agency charged companies $9.00 an hour. The companies that we contacted without identifying the newspaper were substantially higher than the price quoted to us by Ameritemps.
Standard costs associated with hiring a new employee including taxes, benefits (which temp agencies offer only after a period of service) and administration is 20% added to the salary. This would amount to 90 cents for a $4.50 an hour job. Companies pay temporary companies around $9.00 an hour, which would mean the temp companies are making $3.60 per hour in profit from each employee.
     R.C. has worked at several factory jobs through temporary agencies over the years. He described Norrel as treating people professionally because of their location at Tower City. Others, such as Ameritemps and Minutemen, who are located on the outskirts, deal with people who are "more desperate and therefore treat them like they are institutionalized" and will send you to "rougher jobs."
     R.C. claims that if you miss a day because of sickness they will send out someone in your place and offer you an excuse why you cannot go there anymore. He too has worked in conditions he felt were unsafe. At a finishing company he was cleaning out toxic tanks while wearing rubber boots and gloves but was not given a face mask to filter the air he was breathing. At a place called Atlas Tech parts plant, nicknamed "House of Pain" by people who have worked there, he had to pickup parts off a conveyor belt which weighed twenty pounds each. "They expected you to pick up two or three at a time. They should have you doing work according to weight class." Eventually after working so many weeks, the agencies will fire you for "petty" reasons according to R.C., so they won't have to give you benefits.

     Joe of AAA Temporary Agency said that Atlas Tech does not have parts that weigh over 5 pounds, and the temps are paid more money for the job. He said, "I got one guy who is 72 years old who works 10 hours a day [at Atlas Tech]. The work is non-stop. Those caught goofing off or not working are docked. It requires a lot of work."
     Rob has had experience working at a pet store, at a Handy Andy store, painting, salvaging tires, and has had periods of being homeless. He originally sat around for three or four weeks at a temp agency before becoming friends with one of the men who worked there. Then he would always get sent out. He believes those people who had the most trouble becoming a "regular" were those who would wait a few weeks at one agency and then go to another and another.
     His worst experience working through a temp agency occurred when he was sent to a metals plant, which is another heat treatment factory for metal. He was working all day around fire and heat but they would not give him any gloves to wear. "You had to pick up old gloves with holes in them from off the floor and they would not give you a face mask until the day inspectors were supposed to show up. And there were chemicals in the air and on your skin."
     Dobias of Ameritemps said, "We don't really know if they are homeless or not." He said that all jobs are checked out by the salesperson before they are sent out on the job." If there is something dangerous about the job the temp is informed before they are dispatched and are usually paid more for the job."
     Joe from All American said, "Obviously, I will look at them [the homeless] as any other employee. We look at their personality and their will to work." He said that he does not make any special arrangements for the homeless. "They have got to be out by 9:00 a.m. If they are not going to work they can't be hanging around my shop," he stated.

Although none of the homeless men interviewed believed that they were discriminated against because of homelessness, they all felt that temporary agencies take advantage of people who are desperately in need of work. "They [temp agencies] know if your not willing to do the work there is always someone to take your place," stated Rob. "But would I work for temps again?" asked Gerald, "Yes."

Copyright  NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12