The federal governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers reached its apex a couple months ago when a federal
appeals court ruled that Microsoft had to offer the same benefits to its
long-term temporary employees that it offered to its regular full-time
employees. The ruling could force Microsoft to pay back benefits to 6,000
temporary employees, but more importantly if the ruling stands it will
strongly discourage companies from using temporary workers for more than
just a short period of time.
That would be just fine for
unions and government bureaucrats who have been trying to stop the trend
toward using long-term temporary employees. Since 1982 the number of temporary
workers has risen to 2.2 percent of the work force and temp workers and
agencies now constitute a $60 billion a year industry.
The left-liberal line on temporary
workers is that the 1.3 million people who work as temps on any given
day are underpaid and heavily exploited. According to groups such as the
National Employment Law Project, most temporary workers would rather have
permanent jobs rather than their short or long-term temporary ones.
As someone who has worked most
of his adult life on a contract or temporary basis, this doesnÂ’t quite
jibe with my experience and the experience of other temporary workers
with whom IÂ’ve had the pleasure to know and work. Like most job environments,
temping has a definite set of advantages and disadvantages that people
who gravitate toward the industry find accommodates them. On the negative
side, temporary workers do generally make significantly less than full
time employees on the same job site, although as in most areas people
with lots of skills can command relatively high wages. I have worked at
short term temporary positions, for example, where I was paid in the $20
/ hour range, although most places IÂ’ve worked at paid significantly less.
Some of the other problems
with temporary work are gradually changing due to competitive pressures.
For many years few temporary agencies offered benefits such as insurance
or 401K plans, but due to the intense competition between agencies these
are now being offered more and more, although they are still not comparative
to the benefits that full time workers at companies tend to make.
On the other side are the benefits
of temporary work, provided the money and benefits issues fit in with
your lifestyle. The obvious advantage is flexibility Â– if I wanted to
I could work at a different job site every month. Although people in traditional
jobs might find this to be unnerving, it is an incredible way to quickly
acquire experience and skills as well as network with people inside companies
and industries I may later want to seek full time employment with. In
my experience the opportunities for temporary workers are extraordinary
for those willing to pursue them. For skilled, hard working temporary
workers, itÂ’s generally relatively straightforward to land a temp position
that turns into a full time job after a certain period (usually 90 to
120 days) if the worker really prefers a permanent job.
Even in manufacturing and industrial
jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for temporary workers. Shortly
after college I worked as a full time employee for a company that used
temporary agencies to essentially pre-screen workers. A lot of the people
who came in as temps eventually obtained full time jobs with the company
Â– but many had education and work histories that would have precluded
hiring them outright if they had come in the door and applied to be a
full-time employee. Many were semi-literate, with a lack of a high school
diploma or GED being the norm, a significant percentage had criminal records
and most had few skills or consistent work history (i.e. many had never
worked at one place for very long or had recently been fired from a long-time
place of work). The temporary agency got them a foot in the door by minimizing
the risk to the company if the worker didnÂ’t fit in. Many of those hired
in this way used the experience they gained to get their careers back
on track and eventually find higher paying jobs at other companies.
Ironically the governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers has led some corporations to create strict policies
making it all but impossible for temporary workers to make the transition
to full time employees. After the decision in the Microsoft case many
high tech companies that rely on temporary workers created such policies.
The fear is that by allowing temporary workers to become full time employees,
the courts, the IRS and others might at some point in the future rule
there was never a real difference between temporary and full-time employees.
If the current ruling is upheld,
most companies wonÂ’t stop using temporary workers, but instead will adopt
all sorts of new restrictions that ultimately harm those workers with
the fewest skills and work experience as well as those people who desire
the flexibility that temp jobs offer.
That might be a win for Washington
bureaucrats and pro-union ideologues, but it would be a tremendous loss
for millions of temporary workers.