We Don't Need a "Temporary Economy." We Need a Responsible Job Creation Act Now

Feb 7, 2017

All of us are feeling it. We see it happening every day. While representing constituents in Illinois’ 103rd district, I watch the tragedy of an entire state losing good, blue collar jobs on a constant basis.  

In the case of Illinois, we’re not just losing jobs to competition overseas or across state lines. Our state is hemorrhaging so much crucial economic activity because companies are overusing and abusing a permanent “temporary” workforce. 

Many of us know them as “temps.” 

Somewhere along the way, we let good, full-time jobs go bad and go away.  Jobs that built our middle class with stability, living wages, health care and retirement benefits. 

It’s tragic because Illinois is one of the most vital and influential distribution hubs in the country.  Perhaps, even, in the world. We enjoy a rich, vibrant and intersecting network of highways and railways keeping us at the center of the production and movement of goods. These products are at the heart of major American business operations like Walmart and Amazon. 

Yet, like many other places nationally, we didn’t realize that jobs can’t maintain themselves.  As a result, we failed to keep laws updated, allowed worker protections to disappear, and opened the door for companies to outsource to temp agencies. That common practice surrenders the basic legal responsibilities owed to hard-earning workers. Along the way we failed to provide incentives for companies to hire workers directly, allowing them to keep a permanent “temporary” workforce intimidated by fear and disregard for the rule of law. 

This has been disastrous for us as individuals, as communities and as a state. 

As a result, so-called “temp” workers have become modern day sharecroppers: underpaid, undervalued and unprotected. They face brutal mistreatment by employers, and they are far more likely to face serious injury or death from known workplace hazards than their direct-hire peers. They are also twice as likely to live in poverty, with wages 22 percent lower than direct hires who do the same work. Does that sound fair or legal? 

And temporary workers experience incomprehensible levels of wage theft. A recent survey of Illinois “temps” found 75 percent had not been paid some or all of what they were owed for their work. Far too often, temp agencies win low-bid contracts with factories and warehouses, only to make up profit margins through the outright theft or worker wages. 

The abuse is much more rampant than you think. In fact, it has now become the standard of business in certain sectors of our state’s economy, perpetuated by the constant threat of job loss. 

Recent data suggest over half of temporary workers are retaliated against when they claim their rights in the face of abuse. One temp echoed the worries of many when she said, “If you don’t put up with the abuse, that’s when they take your work away. We all are working hard, but that’s not what they look for. They look for someone who doesn’t complain.” 

Mounting evidence shows companies are even targeting communities where they believe fewer will claim their rights. Temp agencies conspicuously set up shop in new immigrant neighborhoods, and most recently, agency dispatchers have blown the whistle on companies requesting agencies who will fill work orders based on race.  This practice benefits no one:  certainly not the Latinos working under sweatshop conditions or the Black workers who are routinely rejected, thereby fueling Black joblessness, incarceration and the inability to participate as a citizen contributing to the community and a consumer investing in the economy.   

While companies enjoy extended profit margins through this lawlessness, it’s not only workers who pay for it - it’s also the State of Illinois. Subsidizing poverty wages for working families costs the state $2.2 billion in public assistance. Lower wages also means temps contribute less in income tax. Based on recent survey data with Illinois temps, that’s $603 less for each of the 800,000 workers in Illinois who secure work through a temp agency, compared with the average Illinois worker with a high school diploma. 

The ripple effects of inequality and insecurity in our local economies is too profound for us to stand by, let alone encourage this in the name of job creation at all costs. 

As an elected official, it is my fundamental duty to restore a rule of law, rather than fear, which responsibly governs every corner of this state, including our workplaces. This is why I’ve introduced the Responsible Job Creation Act, a law that would fill critical loopholes, provide better protections for temps from abuse, and ensure the return of good jobs and healthy economic growth to Illinois. For 10 years, we’ve listened to the tragic stories of workers who have faced devastating injustices from temporary staffing agencies and their client companies. We must put a stop to it: We need responsible jobs, responsible employers, responsible staffing agencies and a responsible economy. We are now taking the first big step towards that reality in Illinois.  

CAROL AMMONS is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives who has represented the state’s 103rd district since January 2015.