ProPublica’s Michael Grabell has been looking at the blue collar temp industry over the course of a year, and recently teamed up with Vice, which put together a video showing how online shopping and our need to have items delivered quickly to our doorsteps have helped given rise to an industry that employs 2.8 million workers—the highest proportion of the American workforce.
Many temps work for months or years packing and assembling products for some of the world’s largest companies, including Walmart, Amazon and Nestlé. They make our frozen pizzas, cut our vegetables and sort the recycling from our trash. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves.
The temp system insulates companies from workers’ compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, temp workers suffer high injury rates, wait unpaid for work to begin and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.
Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data.
It is one of our fastest-growing industries, yet one of the few in which the injury rates have been rising.
In his latest piece, Grabell looks at how blue collar temp laborers compare to migrant farmworkers in the 1960s, whose poor working conditions were exposed in a 1960 CBS documentary by Edward R. Murrow called “Harvest of Shame.”