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.”
In a surprising move, Gap Inc. informed its employees on Wednesday that it would set $9 as the minimum hourly rate for its United States work force this year and then establish a minimum of $10 next year.
Gap said this move would ultimately raise pay for 65,000 of its 90,000 American employees, including those at Banana Republic, Old Navy and other stores.
Gap is making this move as many states consider raising their minimum wage, and as Republicans and Democrats debate a bill that includes a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016.
This is particularly interesting to me because I worked at Gap’s baby store in high school at the minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, which adjusted for inflation would be between $8 and $8.50 today. It’s notable that Gap is also based in San Francisco, which has a city-wide minimum wage of $10.74. California is set to raise its state minimum wage to $10 by Jan. 1 2016, and as the Times points out, by raising it’s hourly wage higher now, “Gap will help avoid a checkerboard of different wages in different states in which workers with several years’ experience might be earning $8.50 or $9 an hour and wondering why they earn less than new hires in California who will be earning a minimum of $10 an hour.” Gap CEO Glenn Murphy said this move would also go to support the company’s founders promise “to ‘do more than sell clothes.’”