Huffington Post’s labor writer Dave Jamieson has written a compelling story on the death of a temporary worker at an Amazon distribution center in Virginia. In his long, detailed, fascinating article, Jamieson never simply blames Amazon or a subcontractor company for the employee’s death. Instead, he tells the story of a human being who went to work one day and did not come home. He takes us into a world of temporary workers and how they labor with little security and no benefits. I don’t want to try to summarize this article. Instead, I urge you to read it and consider the story of Jeff Lockhart, Jr., who died at age 29, leaving behind a wife and three children. Jamieson gave his work the subtitle, “What the Future of Low Wage Work Really Looks Like.” In those words, he challenges us (and Jeff Bezos): Even if this system is legal and makes good business sense – is it right?
The great labor reporter Michelle Chen has written a piece for The Nation that examines the use of temporary labor. She breaks out the various methods large companies use to pay less and not be responsible for worker safety issues or unemployment claims. Many contingent workers have experienced wage theft. In essence, these workers are meant to be replaceable at a moment’s notice. Chen gives a great overview of this disgusting system. I strongly recommend her article.
Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson examines the plight of temporary workers. In many cases, especially if the worker is employed in a factory, a temp job will pay less, be more dangerous, and not be temporary. Temp workers are performing the same tasks as full-time employees with few being on hired to full-time status. Some of these jobs pay as little as $10 per hour. As the U.S. came out of previous recessions, the rise of contract work preceded increased hiring. Now,employer leverage temp workers as a way to hold down labor costs while getting the same level of productivity. Workers have low pay, few benefits, and no security. If this is the way manufacturing will come back to America, it might be better if this type of job stay overseas.
Huffington Post has posted a Reuters report that Walmart is only hiring temporary employees in several states. This move lets the retailers staff busy times without taking on full time employees, The report also notes that hours of some full time employees are being cut. Other retailers are following a similar model.
As I blogged yesterday, the biggest problem facing workers today isn’t unemployment. It is wages. It doesn’t matter if someone is at a low wage job or if they are paid a decent hourly wage with limited hours, in either case, the worker is not making enough money. Walmart and other companies are looking ways to push up profits and share prices. Too often they are doing so on the backs of working people.
We love bad news. It gets the biggest font headlines, and it leads on radio and TV.
Today I found two bits of good news buried in the Chicago Sun-Times. The paper's great business report Francine Knowles reports that temporary employment is up in Chicago by nearly 50% for the last five months. This increase usually precedes increased full time hires. In the same edition, a small note said that retail inventory are being depleted, which means Americans are buying again, another factor that should lead to hiring. A couple of weeks ago another buried story was the latest Consumer Confidence Survey, which showed that American are feeling better about the economy.
These stories give me hope that summer will be a comeback time for the economy. Today I was at a street fair in my neighborhood and a book fair in downtown Chicago. People are out, and they are spending money. Rather than worry about Spain and Greece, the media should look at what's happening in Chicago.