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Temporary Work: A Growing Industry Leaving Some Workers Behind

Becca Schimmel

Temporary work is the fastest growing industry in Kentucky. Clerical work may come to mind when you think about temporary agencies, but that’s a bit of a misnomer these days. An increasing number of manufacturing positions are being filled by temporary agencies.

At Quality Personnel in Bowling Green, a marquee advertises the most recent job openings. One of those is for an automotive supplier, just what Aaron Rinehart is seeking. When he moved from Ohio to Kentucky, he said that he used the same agency to find work. Rinehart said he understands why most factories only hire through temp agencies, but he feels it still hurts the people who want full-time work.

“Not much of a choice really. It’s hard to get on anywhere full time now a days, companies don’t wanna just hire people through the door. So the only way to get on now a days is to go through a temp agency, and put your 90 days of work in, and basically just hope you get hired on after that,” Rinehart said.

Jason Bailey, an economist at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said businesses are moving towards a permanent restructuring and relying more on independent contractors and temporary agencies to fill their open positions. He said this drives wages down, and makes it difficult for workers to move up the ladder.

“I think a lot of what you’re seeing is decisions by corporations in the state to de-skill jobs essentially. To rely more on low wage temporary workers and then blame the workers for not having them, the skills,” Bailey said.  

Bailey believes that hurts business and the economy. He thinks it’s another way for companies to avoid unionization, because temporary workers are not legally allowed to unionize or collectively bargain. Bailey said the only real benefit of temporary agencies is that they provide flexibility in short term situations for employers, but that employers have gone far beyond that and to the detriment of workers.

Bailey explained temporary workers are not guaranteed employment for any amount of time, and they're usually paid lower wages than the full time employees. He said as a result, the burden of taking care of the workers is placed on the taxpayer, because more are having to rely on public assistance.

Credit Becca Schimmel
Temporary worker applicant at Quality Personnel.

“This wholesale shift to use of temp agencies as a way to purely cut costs is harmful for the economy as a whole and we all have an interest in cracking down on it,” Bailey said.

Bailey said temporary work grew by 118 percent from 2009 to 2016, meaning increased competition among temporary agencies. He said that competition often means workers lose out.

Sherry Baldwin has been working at Quality Personnel for 19 years and confirmed that it's a very competitive industry. The companies that are looking for workers are her clients, and the type of worker they want varies. Some clients want to try out employees and hire them in three months, while others want to keep them for a year or more before making a decision. Baldwin said because clients fluctuate in how busy they are, it’s sometimes easier for them not to put workers on their payroll or benefit program when they know they won’t be keeping them for long.

Credit Becca Schimmel
Sherry Baldwin has worked for Quality Personnel for 19 years.

“They’ll just leave them as a temporary employee. That way we can just lay off temps and it’s easier for the client,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said they have a temp-to-hire program, where they hope to have workers become full time within or after 90 days of work. She said if the temp isn’t hired on full time after that, Quality Personnel will terminate that assignment, and look to place the worker somewhere else.

Aaron Rinehart said he’s put his 90 days in before without missing a day, only to find out he’ll have to wait another 30 days or more before finding out if he’ll be hired on full time.

“Just the name temporary, it doesn’t have a good sound to it. It sounds like you’re expendable,” he said.

Rinehart said he doesn’t want to get work through temporary agencies; instead, he wants to walk into the automotive supplier, present his resume, and interview for the job face to face. He wants out of what he sees as a vicious cycle of being viewed as just another “temporary worker.”

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