Perma-temp workers Live in Cycle of Exploitation; Temp Workers’ Bill of Rights will Break it

Make the Road, New Jersey.


Each morning I rise at 4 a.m. to get ready for a new workday. I rent a room in an apartment that I share with several people because I can’t afford my own place. “You have to be here at 5 a.m. and maybe you can get work,” is the phrase we, temporary workers, or “pema-temp” workers — the tens of thousands of us temp workers that work at the same factory or warehouse day in and day out, but never get hired permanently, hear everyday. We have to wait hours for the chance to work, and there is never a guarantee that we will get to work 40 hours that week. Every day is a gamble, waiting to see if we are lucky enough to be called in to work.

The days we are lucky enough to get an assignment, the temp agencies throw us into a van without any information as to where we are going. Oftentimes the vans don’t have seatbelts and we are packed in, too many to fit in the seats,  – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen too many of my coworkers get sick and never come back to work.

My job as a perma-temp worker is to unload and pack boxes for one of the biggest retailers in the world. If you have ordered a new outfit, the latest gadget or anything on those online retailers, you have relied on the help of temp workers just like me.

I’ve learned how to operate a forklift, which makes me more desirable to warehouse employers, but I still make less than what direct hires make doing the same work. . I’ve done work for months, years,  for some of the largest corporations in the world – names that most households in New Jersey would recognize –  but still I don’t have access to basic benefits like  health insurance, or even paid sick days For the more than 127,000 perma-temp workers like myself that’s something we can dream about. Our only hope is to not get hurt at work.

At the end of each day, the temp agency supervisor crammed us back into the vans, often late and sometimes we were dropped off far from the temp agency.  We are not paid for any of these travel hours or waiting hours. And then the next day it all starts again. Many people have asked me why I don’t just speak up or complain. If I do, I won’t be given work the next day, or the next week, and eventually they don’t call you at all.

Then there are the days when work gets canceled. If the company we’re going to decide doesn’t need us , the agency doesn’t tell you until you are on the jobsite. Imagine waking up at 4 a.m., riding for an hour down 95 in a crowded van, just to find out there’s no work. Once the agency van drops off workers in different locations, we have to wait until they finish dropping all the other workers off to be picked up. By that time it’s already 11 a.m. When we head back to the agency, they tell us there’s no more jobs available. We lost a pay day. Still, they still charge us for transportation. I go home with less in my pocket than when I left.

It doesn’t matter your educational background, work experience, or your ,today, if you are a perma-temp worker you will never be seen as a person who can progress in this country.We pay rent. We are active members of the community. We pay our taxes every year. Yet,  fundamental rights other workers have don’t exist for us.

As a temporary worker, I am attached to a job where I  make just enough to get by. Some ask me why I don’t go and find a different job. For many temporary workers, who are mostly immigrants and people of color, that is not an option. We don’t have the same access to opportunities as many in this country. Sometimes it is the only job we can get.

New Jersey hasan opportunity for a change for the more than 127,000 temporary workers across the state: The Temp Workers’ Bill of Rights.

When legislators voted yes to pass the Temp Workers Bill of Rights this summer, they stood on the side of workers like me that do the essential work to keep New Jersey businesses operating.  My co-workers and Ico-workers are counting on NJ elected officials to stand again with us and our families as the Bill heads back to the legislature following the Governor’s conditional veto, which will make this bill more clear and more streamlined for workers, for businesses and for government agencies. I urge the legislature to stand with workers like me – we are making the economy move and we deserve respect and dignity.

Steven Mercado is a member of Make the Road New Jersey from Elizabeth

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3 responses to “Perma-temp workers Live in Cycle of Exploitation; Temp Workers’ Bill of Rights will Break it”

  1. All the more reason we need to secure our borders to preserve jobs for Americans from these illegals

  2. Sadly “Americans” won’t do these kind of jobs. Funny how you talk about securing the borders when probably your ancestors came from another country. The conditions that temporary workers face is pauper and no one not even “ illegals” deserve. I have never seen an “American” wake up at 4am to go to work just to get back home at 9 or 10 pm making $100 a day. Barely making ends meet and this only happens because people like you. “Americans” that think they are above everyone else but at the moment they need labor they don’t hire an American. They Hire Juan because they know Juan is going to do a better job, because Juan won’t ask for sick days or PTO. So May be make reforms to give everyone equal rights instead of making racist remarks because I am pretty sure you haven’t lived anything close to what temporary workers face.

  3. This is a lousy representation of the staffing industry. It sounds like this individual works for the one of many dozens of fly by night agencies that the state turns a blind eye to. In return the ethically run agencies suffer the consequences

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