Saturday, September 6, 2014

More than a Third of U.S. Workers are Freelancers Now

Cross-posted from Forbes

More Than A Third Of U.S. Workers Are Freelancers Now, But Is That Good For Them?
By Susan Adams 

"... [T]he progressive non-profit group National Employment Law Project released a report this week, Temped Out: How The Domestic Outsourcing of Blue-Collar Jobs Harms America’s Workers, that explores the dark side of contingent work. It focuses on the 12 million people who got jobs through staffing agencies last year.

Though NELP’s focus is on blue collar workers and it tallies its numbers differently from the Freelancers Union, Rebecca Smith, the report’s co-author, says the report’s findings extend to many of the jobs highlighted by the Freelancers Union.

 The focus of NELP’s study is the spread of temporary work to areas of the economy like manufacturing and warehousing, where workers were traditionally full-time and often unionized, with full benefits and good wages. Now that those workers are temporary, employers are paying median wages that are 22% lower than in the overall economy, according to NELP’s research.

Says Smith, “Staffing agencies not only fail to provide livable wages, benefits or job security for their workers, but their influence in an industry can lower standards for all workers in that industry.” When a worker has an issue, it’s not clear whether the staffing agency or the top-line company is responsible for setting wages or controlling working conditions.

The NELP report highlights the conditions faced by several workers who got their jobs through staffing agencies, like David Fields, a 45-year-old father of four who worked for staffing agency LINC Logistics in a Walmart consolidation center in Hammond, IN, where he toiled outside in sub-zero temperatures on a warehouse loading dock during the Christmas rush.

“It’s dangerous to move heavy equipment when you can’t feel your hands and you’re walking on ice,” Fields told the NELP researchers. “But as temp workers, we were expendable, so we just kept on working.” Fields wound up organizing fellow workers and presenting a petition to LINC and Walmart, which put a turbine heater on the dock and granted workers warm-up breaks. The vast majority of workers who are employed through staffing firms are not as successful, says Smith.

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