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The Competitive World of Temp Hiring

Tuesday, April 22, 2003 at 3:26 PM

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Advocates for the poor and homeless say temporary workers are being abused. That's why they are starting their own hiring hall. Organizers want to offer workers training, social services and better pay. But some industry insiders say it can't be done in the competitive world of temporary hiring. ideastream's Mike West has this report.

We’re at this Cleveland public housing complex to visit John, which is not his real name. He used to be homeless but now staying here while trying rebuild his life. John hopes to eventually find a full job and move out. But for now, he depends on odd jobs supplied by temporary agencies. They range from gravel pits to stadiums and factories. John says it’s good to have work, but says it’s rough because in his opinion, many temps are treated like dogs. He recalls an episode when too many people once showed up at a job site.

John: The place was full, everybody wanted a job, everybody wanted to go out and so as usual people pull out the people that they want to work. Maybe after they signed up 2 or 3 hundred people there was still maybe 100, 150 people left. So one of the agents there at the place said whoever can sing the national anthem the best will get on the list to go to work, and people start singing to try and get the job. Those kinds of things is unnecessary.

John is happy to hear that a non-profit hiring hall is in the works and is looking forward to it’s planned training and placement services.

The idea was developed after political, labor and church leaders attacked temporary agencies for what they claimed were abuses. Sarah Garver is a job start manager for the united labor agency. It’s one of over a dozen backers of the project. She says their hiring hall will offer workers better pay and working conditions.

Sarah Garver: It’s not just the hours, it’s if you look at the whole package, it’s making $25 for a 16-hour day, it’s not having safety equipment, not having the training, being verbally abused all kinds of racial slurs.

Garver says on an average day several thousand temporary workers are needed in the local labor market. It adds up to a lot of cash.

Sarah Garver: Which is why we see a community non-profit hiring hall is feasible because they’re willing to pay a decent wage, we take maybe $2 rather than half or 3/4 and we funnel that back into operations and maybe even some programs that will help them get housing allowing them to kind of build their self-esteem and a life that they deserve the opportunity to have.

Organizers of the non-profit hiring hall say over 200 companies and a few unions have already agreed to become clients. Tony Minor was recently hired to manage the new enterprise.

Tony Minor: Number one, we will provide clear opportunities for training and encourage people to move on and we will pay a living wage.

A business plan has been drawn up and Minor hopes to test the waters with a 12-week pilot program this summer. But he says it’s too soon to know when the entire operation will be running, which will offer a new approach to the business.

Tony Minor: We’re not going to treat them as if they are victims or they’re clients but they are American workers who need support that’s why the unions are very excited about the project and are at the table because they recognize that these are men and women who work everyday like most Americans but are somehow on the edge as it relates to worker rights.

So what we’re going to do is bring them into the family and say we honor your work and were going to make you or help you live a quality life like all other Americans.

Joseph Granata knows the temporary business. He’s the Treasurer of Cleveland-based Ameritemps. The 33-year-old company has offices in 26 cities. He thinks the planners of the new hiring hall are a little too idealistic.

Joseph Granata: The challenges are, I know I would like to pay our people more but the challenge is on, who you gonna bill. There are costs associated, we are true employers. We are true employers we pay all taxes worker’s compensation, state unemployment, federal unemployment.

Granata says he would love to pay two or three dollar more an hour to workers. But insists that if you factor in all the costs, there’s no room for extras, or pay above minimum wage.

Joseph Granata: I don’t see how they’re gonna pay more unless they bill more. You have rent you have overhead, you transportation issues, getting the people to work back from work, there’s a lot of costs, drug screen costs, advertising costs, there’s numerous costs involved to put somebody to work. First you have to go out and find the job, that takes sales people, they don’t come free.

Another problem for the non-profit hall could be making sure there are enough jobs for workers to fill and enough workers willing to wait around for assignments. Granada says it will be a catch-22 for the new agency.

Joseph Granata: I don’t know where they are going to get them from. If they open their doors and say, yea were gonna pay more and everything, but they don’t have any jobs to send them to, those people aren’t going to be there for em’, I mean, you need to put em’ to work.

So far no location has been picked for the hiring hall but planners say it will probably be in the downtown area because that’s where the other temp agencies are located and it isn’t likely to encounter opposition from neighbors. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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