Report criticizes condition of temporary workers

North County Times, 10/23/02 |

Use of temporary workers has spread to an estimated 95 percent of San Diego County’s employers, leaving as many as 100,000 workers with profound job insecurity and without easy access to health insurance, sick pay or retirement plans, according to a study released Tuesday by a think tank in San Diego.

Researchers reported that 75 percent of workers surveyed said they take temporary jobs only because they can’t find permanent employment.

Some temps said they feel unwelcome and vulnerable on the job, and many said they were terrified of getting hurt or sick.

“Most of them had to face a double whammy; if they did fall sick, they not only have to pay the full cost of health care, but they also lose pay because they are not working,” said Sundari Baru, an economist who co-wrote the study.

Employment agencies countered that use of such workers provides flexibility to employers and gives workers an entry to possible full-time jobs.

“It’s a great way to get qualified people in the door,” said Paula Sutherland, branch manager in Carlsbad of Adecco Staffing, a giant international employment firm.

Sutherland said that Adecco offers full benefits to workers, including health, dental, tuition reimbursement and retirement packages, for costs that start at about $12 per paycheck.

The study was conducted for the Center on Policy Initiatives, an employment research organization in San Diego that is directed by local labor union officials. The report was funded in large measure by the University of California and groups affiliated with UC San Diego.

Researchers said they interviewed 71 temporary workers in focus groups, surveyed 29 employment agencies, and spoke with human resource managers at 38 firms in the county.

A quarter of workers said they were happy to be working in temporary positions. Most were highly skilled and said they felt able to negotiate good pay and working conditions.

However, the majority of those surveyed said they felt compelled to take whatever pay was offered and, when benefits were offered, most said they couldn’t afford the payments. Some said they resented the fees collected by temporary agencies.

Use of temporary workers has spread from hospitality —- which uses temps for 30 percent of its total work force —- to defense, software and biotechnology firms, the report found.

Baru said that state officials counted 38,200 jobs in county temporary agencies in 2000. Extrapolating national estimates of companies that directly hire temporaries, she said the true figure could top 100,000 workers each day, or about 7 percent of the county’s total employment.

Researchers recommended the state enact laws to expand benefits to temporary workers and prohibit firms from replacing permanent workers with temps.