September 25, 2018 | ° F

PETRUCCI: Female temp labor in New Brunswick shows disparities


Opinions Column: The Annoying Vegan Millennial


The Never-Never Girl: She “Never takes a vacation or holiday. Never asks for a raise. Never costs you a dime for slack time. (When the workload drops, you drop her). Never has a cold, slipped disc or loose tooth. Never costs you for unemployment taxes and Social Security payments ... " proclaimed a 1971 advertisement for Kelly Services, a temporary work agency that emerged in the years following World War II. 

Temporary work is an employment situation where the working arrangement is limited to a certain period of time based on the needs of the employing organization. While this sounds strikingly similar to the majority of President Donald J. Trump’s advisory staff who seemingly work in one-month stents, the vulnerable populations comprise the majority of temp laborers.  

Kelly Services successfully personified temp work as a white middle-class woman entering an administrative job to earn a little money. Now temp agencies function as a middle man, literally, providing businesses with largely immigrant labor. New Brunswick in particular is home to dozens of temp agencies located in or bordering Latinx communities, according to a 2011 seminal study. 

Yet, the current temp worker looks a little less like Kelly and a little more like Germania Hernández, a local New Brunswick woman who worked through a temporary work agency in a variety of spaces including beauty salons and warehouses. She currently works for New Labor, a New Jersey workers organization which advocates for immigrant workers' rights.

“At the time I worked from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 or 8 at night, at the time, the minimum wage was $5.15 but I got only $80 per week which was $2 per hour, way below the minimum wage,” Hernández said in Spanish to an audience of Rutgers students and members of the New Brunswick community.

While Kelly temp workers have changed and now encapsulate immigrant men and women, the criteria remains the same: lack knowledge of your rights, work for little and don’t fight for anything outlandish like basic health care rights and fair wages or injury compensation. 

In Middlesex County, temp workers make up more than 6 percent of the county's workforce, nearly triple the national average, according to ProPublica. Temp agencies employ approximately 127,000 workers like Hernández throughout New Jersey. 

But, very little data exists on how many Kellys or Kens fulfill these temp roles. A study conducted by New Labor in partnership with the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University entitled “Controlled Chaos: The Experiences of Women Warehouse Workers in New Jersey," shows the experiences of temp workers varies by gender. 

For female temp workers, “work-life balance” has less to do with Melissa’s attempt to plan her family’s Disney cruise around April’s maternity leave and more to do with balancing domestic unpaid child care work and wage work. 

According to a report published by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with the AARP, the majority of caregiving falls on the shoulders of women. Haphazard work schedules and the unreliability of jobs cause female temp workers to rely on paid caretakers. “Those who use (or have used) babysitters indicated that large portions of their paychecks went toward that expense,” according to a female temp worker quoted in the study. 

One temp worker said that after paying for transportation and food, she would need to earn at least $14 per hour in order to cover the cost of her child’s care. This number sounds similar to one that those darn millennial liberals have been protesting about.

Hernández continued to work in the warehouse during her pregnancy. “I asked my supervisor if he could move me to a position which required less heavy lifting. He told me, ‘you have two options: stay or leave, the only jobs we have for pregnant women are already taken by the women working in the company,’” Hernández said.

Sex segregation of work and wage inequality bring us to our favorite subject: the gender pay gap. Oftentimes agencies advertise higher paid tasks, usually involving intense manual labor, to men. One New Brunswick ad read: “Full time gig for men 2nd shift (3 p.m.-12 a.m.)."

Yet one respondent explained in the study, "Sometimes we do the same job, but men earn more."

With the sex segregation of childcare, work and pay, a culture of “flirting” and unwanted sexual advances becomes normal for employees whose powerful employer controls how “temporary” their employment will be. 

Some flirt back as one research participant said, "Here is the thing. If you are a man, and you like them flirting with you, then you give them an easier job."

Francesca Petrucci is a School of Arts and Sciences junior double majoring in journalism and media studies and political science and minoring in Spanish. Her column, "The Annoying Vegan Millennial," runs on alternate Tuesdays. 

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Francesca Petrucci

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